More than $75,000 has been donated by Tennessee attorneys to organizations that serve low-income individuals in need of legal assistance.
The donations come as part of the annual registration process that attorneys participate in to maintain their law licenses. Starting in 2015, attorneys were given the option to donate to the Access to Justice Fund when they were renewing their licenses.
The new fund was established after the Access to Justice Commission proposed an amendment to Rule 9 that has allowed attorneys to contribute funds for distribution to organizations that provide civil legal aid to low-income individuals. In its first year, Tennessee attorneys raised $76,577.
The Commission worked with the Supreme Court, the Board of Professional Responsibility, Tennessee attorneys, and legal aid groups to launch a tradition of generosity. Each year, attorneys will have the opportunity to donate funds for disbursement to agencies serving low-income Tennesseans needing greater access to justice.
One growing organization that will receive funding this year is Justice for Our Neighbors. The group provides affordable legal services to low-income immigrants and their families. As part of their mission, Justice for Our Neighbors provides direct representation to vulnerable young people and coordinates training and representation for interested pro bono attorneys. With the money donated by attorneys, they can bolster their program for immigrated unaccompanied minors.
“Additional resources will be used to provide for the protection of unaccompanied minors seeking to remain in the United States, safely away from violence in their countries of origin,” Executive Director Wade Munday said. “We are extremely grateful that this unexpected funding can help more immigrant children experience the warm welcome of the Volunteer State.”
Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET), which has an office in Chattanooga, will receive $17,852.63. Paige Evatt, the new pro bono project director for LAET, said the generosity and support of the local bar have overwhelmed her. “Lawyers in Tennessee, and especially lawyers in Chattanooga, should be proud of the lives they have changed through their giving,” she said. “I encourage lawyers who want to know more about how they can support Legal Aid to reach out to me directly.”
Southeast Tennessee Legal Services, which also has a Chattanooga office, will receive $653.13.
The Commission approved this year’s beneficiary organizations that met the requirements laid out in Rule 9. The initial list of eligible organizations was developed in consultation with Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services and its statewide network of non-profit legal service providers. The funds have been apportioned according to each organization’s size, based on the organization’s revenue reported to the Internal Revenue Service. In the future, recipients will be reviewed on an annual basis to determine whether an organization remains qualified to receive funds. The Commission also will determine whether other qualified organizations should be added to the list.
Each organization is required to submit a fiscal report of how the donation is used. The Commission plans to evaluate the allocation method following the June 2017 distribution, after two years’ worth of distributions has made its way to organizations.
Source: Tennessee Supreme Court