George T. “Buck” Lewis III was awarded the William Reece Smith, Jr. Special Services to Pro Bono Award last month at the American Bar Association Equal Justice Conference. Lewis, a lawyer at Baker Donelson, was an inaugural member of the Access to Justice Commission, part of an ongoing Supreme Court initiative to bring together stakeholders to remove barriers to civil justice for low-income and disadvantaged people in Tennessee.
Lewis received the award in recognition of his commitment to developing and improving Online Tennessee Justice, a website that allows people to ask volunteer lawyers legal questions for free. OnlineTNJustice.org is a joint project of the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services and the Tennessee Bar Association. Not only did Lewis provide the ideas necessary to start Online Tennessee Justice, but he also helped 16 other states launch or begin the process of launchingtheir own versions of the website before a national online tool from the American Bar Association (ABA) was conceived. Through his efforts, Lewis paved the way for the national website, which will launch in 40 states in August, making him a state, regional, and national leader in making pro bono legal aid tools more accessible to the public.
Lewis has demonstrated his devotion to the Supreme Court’s Access to Justice initiative through countless hours of pro bono work as well as his leadership in spearheading improvements to the accessibility of legal services. More than 12,500 low-income Tennesseans have been served by OnlineTNJustice.org, the model for a national pro bono website.
“Buck has tirelessly championed innovative ways to provide meaningful access to our system of justice to everyone regardless of their ability to pay. Buck believes that justice for all does not mean justice for some and this belief is evidenced by his many years of hard work in Tennessee and the nation on behalf of Access to Justice,” Chief Justice Sharon Lee said.
The ABA and National Association of Pro Bono Professionals’William Reece, Jr. Special Services to Pro Bono Award recognizes the efforts of those who generate support for, provide assistance to or have other positive influence on the systems or networks of providing pro bono legal services. The award is to honor those who elevate, enhance or make easier the work of the pro bono professionals and volunteer attorneys.
“Buck Lewis is a passionate champion of pro bono and expanding access to justice in our state. His vision for OnlineTNJustice.org was a game-changing innovation,” said Ann Pruitt, executive director of the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services. “Through Buck’s leadership, online legal help will soon be available to people in need nationwide. It is exciting and so fitting that Buck has been honored for his innovative and tireless leadership in making legal help more accessible.”
Lewis is a shareholder with Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC in Memphis. He was president of the Tennessee Bar Association 2008-2009. During his term, Mr. Lewis launched the "4ALL" campaign to bring much-needed legal services to Tennesseans of modest means. The campaign resulted in significantly increased pro bono participation by Tennessee attorneys as well as eight separate court rules and legislative changes that have been instrumental in enhancing the delivery of pro bono services in Tennessee.
He was also chair of the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission 2012-2014, chair of the American Red Cross Mid-South Chapter 2012-2014, and received the first Justice Janice N. Holder Award for civil legal service in 2014. In 2014, ABA President William Hubbard appointed him to the American Bar Association Pro Bono and Public Service Committee.