Some local law firms are doing more to make sure the poor in Chattanooga have legal representation, help that Legal Aid officials say is desperately needed.
"More people have need than we have capacity," said Maeghan Jones, pro bono director at Legal Aid of East Tennessee. "The firms have really been stepping up to have more partnerships with us."
With the economic downturn, the demand for free legal representation for people who can't afford to pay a lawyer has been on the rise, Jones said. Legal Aid is taking more than 300 cases a year.
Two local firms -- Chambliss Bahner & Stophel and Miller & Martin -- are helping to place more pro bono cases with their attorneys by creating liaisons with Legal Aid.
Some attorneys within the two firms always have picked up local pro bono cases, but Legal Aid worked with them on an individual basis, said Dana Perry, managing partner at Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel.
Now one attorney in each firm gets a list of pro bono needs and spreads the cases throughout the firm, she said.
"Cases would come in on a scattershot basis; there was no centralized process," said Perry, whose firm takes between 15 and 20 pro bono cases each year. "This is a part of the ethics we strive for as attorneys to engage in pro bono and help the less fortunate. A lot of people don't know that about law firms."
Kevin Hudson, an associate at Miller & Martin, said he's glad firms are taking on more cases and making the process of pairing lawyers with pro bono cases easier.
"It makes it a lot more efficient," said Hudson. "Their funds are decreasing while the demand is increasing. ... They have a huge job. We feel like this is a way we can help."
Another firm, Husch Blackwell, has offered to take on many cases where renters have not been able to get their rent deposits back from landlords. Jones said such cases are common at Legal Aid.
Lawyers at Husch Blackwell have been trained by Legal Aid to take on deposit cases, Jones said. "We have an amazing commitment from individual lawyers," he said.
Contact Joan Garrett at jgarrett @timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6601.