Legal Services Website Launches Early to Help Storm Victims

By Bill Dries

A new website offering free legal help to low-income Tennesseans will be open in time to help victims of the storm and flooding damages across the state this week.

The Tennessee Bar Association and the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services have pushed up the opening of the website which launches Friday, ahead of schedule.

The overall access to free legal help was a major push during George Buck Lewis’ tenure as Tennessee Bar Association president. And Baker Donelson, the law firm at which Lewis is a shareholder, provided the programming for the website, which took a year and a half to develop.

“They have to qualify as low-income and basically legal services-qualified,” Lewis said. “You have to register and it asks questions.”

Statewide, 200 attorneys have volunteered to field the inquiries from those who qualify and can then post questions under the different legal subject headings.

“We’ve got people out there that have questions that have access to email at home, at work, at church or at the library,” Lewis said. “But they maybe can’t go to a clinic. Or their legal services agency is too swamped to provide help. They can register on this website, post their question, and then volunteer lawyers go on and answer the questions.”

The attorneys may respond with an answer or want more details. And the website allows for a private dialogue between the attorneys and the potential clients.

Lewis said a 2010 Microsoft Corp. grant has been critical to making the email-based system work because otherwise it would cost the agencies $65,000 a year to maintain.

Dell Computers was also involved in establishing the network along with the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission.