Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, September 22, 2023

Legal Aid of East Tennessee announces October clinics, Pro Bono Night details

Firm to honor Judge John McClarty, others with annual awards

Legal Aid of East Tennessee will devote the month of October to celebrating the American promise of “justice for all” and to honoring those who ensure justice is available to everyone – including those who cannot afford to pay for an attorney.

In addition to hosting its annual Pro Bono Night soiree, the organization will hold three clinics and work sessions that will provide critical services to those in need.

Pro Bono Night will take place Thursday, Oct. 26 at Chattanooga Whiskey Event Hall beginning at 5 p.m. The event provides Legal Aid with an opportunity to honor individuals who have delivered exceptional volunteer service throughout the preceding year, as well as entities that have locked arms with the organization in its unrelenting mission to provide access to justice.

The Hon. Sharon Lee, retired Tennessee Supreme Court justice, will serve as both the master of ceremonies and the guest of honor.

“Justice Lee has been a longtime supporter of Legal Aid of East Tennessee,” says Mary Frances DeVoe, pro bono coordinator at Legal Aid. “We want to give her another round of applause for her many years of service.”

The ceremony will feature the presentation of annual accolades, including the Alexander Hamilton Award, the Bruce C. Bailey Volunteer Lawyer of the Year Award, the Pro Bono Firm of the Year Award and the Chief Justice William M. Barker Equal Access to Justice Award.

The Alexander Hamilton Award honors a community partner outside the legal profession that has helped to foster access to justice in Hamilton County. McKee Foods Corporation and Hamilton County’s Family Justice Center received the award in 2021 and 2022, respectively.

Legal Aid will present the 2023 Alexander Hamilton Award to three organizations for their assistance with the upcoming One-Stop-Shop Resource Fair, which will take place at the Hamilton County Courthouse Thursday, Sept. 28, from 1-4 p.m. The fair will offer a variety of resources for justice involved individuals in the areas of employment, housing, mental health, expungement, child support and health care.

The three award recipients will be the Tennessee Department of Corrections Community Resource Center, the American Job Center and the city of Chattanooga’s Office of Community Health.

“Alexander Hamilton said the first duty of society is justice,” DeVoe says. “These entities recognize the importance of access to justice for all Tennesseans.”

Legal Aid will present Volunteer Lawyer of the Year awards to two individuals: Laura Higbee of Husch Blackwell and Brad Harvey of Miller Martin.

DeVoe says Higbee, who represents clients involved in commercial litigation and class action disputes, has been a constant presence at Legal Aid clinics in 2022 and 2023.

“In addition to taking cases, Laura has attended nearly every clinic we’ve hosted during the last 18 months,” DeVoe says. “Even when she’s unfamiliar with what we’re asking her to do, she’s always willing to learn. She engages with Legal Aid really well and is tremendously supportive.”

Harvey has also stepped outside his area of practice to help Legal Aid provide a vital service. Although he focuses on labor and employment law and class and collective action defense at Miller & Martin, he assisted Legal Aid with several rural adoptions in 2023.

“Brad does a lot of reverse referrals for us in addition to handling many of our rural adoptions, which is very helpful,” DeVoe says. “It’s not easy to deliver urban resources to rural counties, so it’s helpful when people like Brad say, ‘I can drive an hour to help these folks out.’”

DeVoe says Legal Aid has adopted a loose interpretation of its Firm of the Year Award in recent years, when it’s often commended a legal group that’s worked with the organization rather than a law firm. In 2022, for example, Legal Aid presented the award to the Chattanooga Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division.

In 2023, Legal Aid will present the honor to the Tennessee Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel, a professional association that serves attorneys who practice in the legal departments of corporations, associations and other private-sector organizations.

“This is a small group that has gone above and beyond the call of duty over the last year,” DeVoe says. “They’ve taken cases, written wills and performed expungements. They’ve also asked us to host CLEs and speak at their meetings. We appreciate how heartily they’ve engaged with us.”

Legal Aid will present its Access to Justice Award to Tennessee Court of Appeals Judge John McClarty. The organization created the award in 2010 to honor the late Tennessee Supreme Court chief justice and his “tremendous dedication to providing legal services to people in need,” it said at the time.

“Judge McClarty has been a true champion of equal access to justice as a lawyer and a judge, and is the ideal recipient of this distinguished award,” says Russell Fowler, Legal Aid’s director of litigation and advocacy and managing attorney.

Legal clinics in October

Legal Aid typically hosts Pro Bono Night in October, during Celebrate Pro Bono Month in Tennessee and the National Pro Bono Celebration during the last week of the month.

However, this year, Legal Aid will turn its night of celebration into a monthlong opportunity to provide free legal services to people who need them. To this end, the organization will host three clinics and work sessions, all of which still have room for volunteers.

Legal Aid will hold a virtual name change clinic Thursday, Oct. 5 beginning at 4:30 p.m. During the event, volunteer attorneys will meet online with clients, draft petitions, provide information on filing fees and discuss what to expect during a hearing. Once the attorney has drafted a petition, the client will file it.

The event will take place the same week as Chattanooga Pride, which is scheduled for Oct. 7 and 8. Legal Aid is partnering with the Chattanooga Trans Liberation Collective, which will assist with filing fees and offer emotional support during hearings.

On Oct. 11 at 4 p.m., Legal Aid will bring as many attorneys as it can gather under its roof in the UBS Building (100 W. Martin Luther King Boulevard) for an expungement rally. Participants will review records to determine if the individuals are eligible for expungement, after which Legal Aid will notify the clients of their conclusions.

DeVoe is encouraging attorneys who have never handled an expungement to participate due to the collaborative nature of the work session, saying, “There will be people in the room who have done expungements and will be able to walk you through the process. This is a chance to learn something new while also helping people.”

Legal Aid will then host a child support clinic Thursday, Oct. 19 from 2:30-4:30 p.m. at Hamilton County Juvenile Court (1600 E. 3rd Street). Attorneys will primarily offer advice on modifying child support and help clients complete the necessary paperwork.

To volunteer for a clinic or work session, scan the QR code printed alongside this article and then complete the registration form that loads on your device.

As an expression of gratitude, DeVoe will give a free ticket to Pro Bono Night to every attorney who volunteers for at least one of the clinics and work sessions Legal Aid is hosting in October.

Purchase tickets for Pro Bono Night at laet.networkforgood.com/events/60013-2023-chattanooga-area-pro-bono-night.

“Pro Bono Night is the premiere bench and bar event of the year,” says Fowler. “Join us in celebrating our local legal heroes who have advanced the American promise of ‘justice for all’ and prove that ‘the law is the highest of the professions,’ as Calvin Coolidge said.”