Free legal services in Tennessee doubles

Free legal services in Tennessee doubles

April 26th, 2014 by Todd South in Local Regional News

The number of attorneys and hours of free legal services provided in Tennessee has doubled since the state's highest court began pushing such work in 2010.

A report released Friday showed that only 18 percent of the state's attorneys performed pro bono work when the Tennessee Supreme Court first brought up the initiative nearly four years ago.

Numbers from 2013 show that more than 42 percent of the Volunteer State's 21,645 attorneys did pro bono work.

Tennessee attorneys averaged nearly 74 hours a year. The court's goal was 50. The national average in a comparable category, according to the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts, is 60.

"The Tennessee Supreme Court remains committed to developing Access to Justice initiatives in the state," said Justice Janice Holder in a statement. "The results of this report demonstrate that the commission is moving in the right direction."

Legal Aid of East Tennessee's Pro Bono project director Charlie McDaniel said Friday that Chattanooga-area lawyers are at the forefront of doing the charitable work.

McDaniel said some attorneys do hundreds of hours a year in donated legal service while others may only be able to handle a case or two, depending on their schedules.

"I'm amazed at the amount of work attorneys do," McDaniel said.

He meets with leaders of similar legal aid programs across the country and said that other states often point to Tennessee as a leader in the pro bono push. And Chattanooga leads within the state, he said.

"We're on the cutting edge of the cutting edge," McDaniel said.

A structured pro bono program has been in place here since the 1960s, McDaniel said. Three local law firms have agreed recently to be part of a new approach moving across the state called the Pillar Law Firm Project.

The project aims to have law firms focus on specialized areas in which to do pro bono work. One such local firm, Clark and Washington, volunteered to take a steady stream of pro bono bankruptcy cases because its firm does work in that area, McDaniel said.

That firm will be named the Chattanooga Pro Bono Law Firm of the year at a May 15 awards ceremony that Legal Aid holds, McDaniel said.

Contact staff writer Todd South at or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP