VOL. 126 | NO. 234 | Thursday, December 1, 2011
Memphis Law Talk
Laughter Laizure Furthers Mission of Community Legal Ctr.
By JOHN LINTNER
Kathy Laughter Laizure began volunteering with the Community Legal Center in Memphis relatively early in her career. In an effort to help people who couldn’t afford legal representation, she would accept as many pro bono assignments from the organization as possible.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)
Laughter Laizure was encouraged in her work for the CLC by the late Elmore Holmes – her former partner and pioneer of the organization. Laughter Laizure, who is senior counsel in employment law for FedEx Corp., said she was eager to serve on the board of directors when she was asked five years ago.
“I was quite delighted to be a part of the organization that I knew he had worked so hard for and that meant so much to him,” said Laughter Laizure, who was elected board chair in January. “Personally, what I get out of it is a real sense of giving back to the community – not only to our clients.”
CLC’s original mission was to provide free family law mediation services to people of limited means. However, it was not able to attract enough clients in the beginning.
Though there was little interest in mediation, the organization received an abundance of requests for other types of legal services. The board formulated a plan to establish a legal services program to provide aid in legal representation as well as mediation.
Aside from capital procured from government grants, Laughter Laizure has made a point during her tenure as board chair to raise more funds to serve the community. The reason, she said, is because CLC’s success is largely based on the number of people it can help who otherwise wouldn’t have access to legal services.
“We have a great partnership and working relationship with Memphis Area Legal Services Inc.,” said Laughter Laizure, referring to one of the channels CLC uses to reach out to those in need. “We pick up the clients that don’t qualify for their services. So we just – kind of with their help – reach a much broader area of the community.”
CLC offers continuing legal education units to volunteer attorneys, and it also offers seminars to clients on issues ranging from buying a used car to family law. Moving forward, Laughter Laizure wants to expand such educational opportunities.
CLC isn’t limited to family law practice. It has expanded into immigration law, helping political refugees and victims of abuse in situations such as human trafficking. The organization also offers University of Memphis law students experience in the groundwork and research of practicing law through apprentice positions on its immigration law team.
“We don’t turn the students loose themselves because they are in the immigration court,” Laughter Laizure said.
“In general sessions in some of the smaller state courts, they will allow students to come in and actively appear on their own. I don’t believe that’s the case in immigration court. They do have to come with a licensed attorney, but they provide a lot of background work on these cases. I know it’s a big thrill – kind of an adrenaline rush – when you get in there and win and actually accomplish something.”
CLC once had an immigration clinic at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. Laughter Laizure and her colleagues are working to get replacement funding to continue that program.
With no shortage of people who seek her assistance in legal matters, Laughter Laizure approaches each need methodically.
“It’s always a balancing act,” she said. “Sometimes I get really busy, particularly with fundraisers and such. At times, we have more business with the CLC than I can handle easily, but I’ve been a working mother and was a mother as a law student. So juggling tasks is something you just kind of learn to do in time.”