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VOL. 126 | NO. 249 | Thursday, December 22, 2011

Supreme Court Website Provides Civil Legal Help

By Andy Meek

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The Tennessee Supreme Court has created a website targeted especially for people who can’t afford a lawyer and need help with civil legal matters.

JusticeForAllTN.com includes court forms, resource pages for individual counties, court alternatives, help with finding a lawyer and more. In essence, it seeks to be a one-stop-shop for anyone who needs a lawyer to help with all or part of a case, who needs to find an agency to help with a legal problem or who wants more information about representing themselves.

The site also makes it possible for the public to email a question to a volunteer attorney. And a “How can I help?” tab provides a selection of resources for attorneys who want to share their services.

That selection includes tools for attorneys who might want to start their own pro bono clinic.

“We view the Justice For All website as a clearinghouse of information and legal resources for Tennesseans facing civil legal issues without the assistance of an attorney,” said Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Cornelia Clark.

The new site for the public is an outgrowth of a broad “access to justice” movement being pursued by the state and local legal communities.

After taking the oath of office and giving his inaugural address this summer as the new president of the Tennessee Bar Association, Memphis attorney Danny Van Horn stressed the importance of the TBA and the legal community in general working harder to make legal services more widely available to those in need.

“I’ve branded this year an access to justice campaign. (There is) a drastic and dire need for us to step up. Access to justice has to be at the core of what we do as an organized bar.”

–Danny Van Horn
President, Tennessee Bar Association

“I’ve branded this year an access to justice campaign,” said Van Horn, an attorney with Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens & Cannada PLLC, adding that there is “a drastic and dire need for us to step up.

“Access to justice has to be at the core of what we do as an organized bar.”

His four-point plan for his year in office, his “All-Access Campaign,” is about access to justice for those who cannot afford legal services; access to opportunity and diversity for women and other traditionally underrepresented groups; access to professional development geared toward young, solo and small-firm lawyers; and access to civics education.

The Tennessee court system launched a revamped version of its own site, TNCourts.gov, earlier this year with a motivation similar to the new “Justice for all” site. It includes a detailed map with court information from all of the state’s 95 counties.

The state Supreme Court announced its Access to Justice Initiative at the end of 2008 and formed an Access to Justice Commission in 2009. Since then, the commission came up with a strategic plan, the court hosted a summit and the court launched its new website.

“The best thing you can do if you have a legal problem is to talk with a lawyer,” reads the new JusticeForAllTN.com page. “But the Court realizes that sometimes people cannot get help from a lawyer because they cannot afford one or they decide they want to represent themselves.”

Closer to home, Memphis Area Legal Services Inc. is stepping up its annual fundraising drive and is hoping to raise more than usual to recover a cut from the federal government.

MALS’ “Campaign for Equal Justice” fundraising effort will help an agency that sees much of its work involving clients with family or domestic issues.

MALS fundraising chairman and Memphis attorney George T. “Buck” Lewis told The Daily News earlier this month, “A huge percentage of what they do has to do with families that are in distress, mostly women with children who are having problems with orders of protection or alimony and child support problems or housing issues or benefits and health care issues.”

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