Help4TNMonth civil legal help to Tennesseans in need

April 28, 2021

ATJ Commission and Partners Unite for Communities in Need

The Tennessee equal justice community continues to provide opportunities for Tennesseans to connect to civil legal help throughout the month of April, Help4TNMonth. The Tennessee Faith & Justice Alliance, an initiative of the Access to Justice Commission, partnered with the Knoxville Bar Association and Legal Aid of East Tennessee to sponsor a COVID friendly Faith and Justice Phone-In General Legal Advice Clinic in mid-April. Interested clients called Legal Aid of East Tennessee to sign up and 21 student volunteers from the University of Tennessee College of Law and Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law conducted intake on Saturday, April 10th. The phone clinic ran from April 13th to April 15th and 21 volunteer attorneys contacted 38 clients to provide legal advice on a wide range of legal topics.

Stories from the Legal Clinic Volunteers

Allison J. Starnes-Anglea, Esq., Director of Career Services, LMU Duncan School of Law:

“Adoption is not only a complicated legal process but it also weighs heavy on the hearts of clients. Time spent talking to a client about their adoption case is time spent providing more than just legal advice. Clients are fearful, anxious, and will challenge your ability to provide compartmentalized advice. That said, not once in ten years of practice have I spoken to a pro bono adoption client and regretted it. In April, the Legal Aid of East Tennessee Faith and Justice Clinic gave me an opportunity to walk a client through the process of an adoption. Though the clinic was not in person, I still found a meaningful connection with my client.

As a foster parent living off of a limited income due to a disability, my client adopted two children while living in another state and recalled the process was “simple” and “cost-free” due to that state’s adoption assistance program. I learned she was contacted by the biological mother of one of her children, who reported that she is expecting another child and wants my client to privately adopt the child. We discussed why this child’s adoption would be different than her prior experience and I took her through the steps of a private adoption in Tennessee.

As an approved Tennessee Department of Children’s Services foster home, her ever-changing home composition concerned her. Over the phone, we walked the various paths that could take her to that virtuous goal of caring for a child in need. We walked through the process of physical and legal custody orders, parental surrenders, termination of parental rights, and ultimately an adoption. Without the clinic, this client would be unprepared and lost in a new state’s legal system.

If you find yourself available for an upcoming legal clinic, I encourage you to sign up to speak to a client. Choosing to give my billable time, my emotional energy, and legal guidance to this worthy-beyond-compare client was simply the best hour of my work day.”

Mariel Cooper, Attorney, Quist, Fitzpatrick & Jarrard, PLLC:

“A few weeks ago I participated in my first legal aid clinic as an attorney.  This particular clinic was a phone-in Faith and Justice clinic which allowed participating attorneys to serve clinic clients without being in--person.  Having no in-person clinic experience, I have no idea whether most attorneys' experiences are as hectic as mine felt! 

The facts of my assigned client's matter that I was given beforehand turned out to be a very rough sketch of the complex facts that actually led to my client's issue.  I did my best while talking with the client to discern the relevant facts and to give her a framework for solving her problem going forward.  Overall, I thought this was a great experience and I look forward to my next opportunity to serve through a legal aid clinic!”

Seven community faith partners from across Knox County joined the effort to publicize this clinic to their congregants and communities and encouraged those in need of legal advice to participate. Those community partners were Second United Methodist Church, Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, Ball Camp Baptist Church, the Muslim Community of Knoxville, First Baptist Church, Immaculate Conception Church, and Faith Lutheran Church.

Upcoming Virtual Town Hall

The TN Faith & Justice Alliance is also sponsoring a statewide virtual town hall on Thursday, April 29, beginning at 2 p.m. CDT. People often look to these faith communities for guidance during times of crises. This training seeks to educate and train leaders and members of faith based communities about the best practices for dealing with sexual assault. The training also aims to provide legal professionals with an overview of the law in this area so that they may, in turn, support their faith communities. Registration for this free training is online here.

The event will begin with a 30-minute training on mandatory reporting laws in Tennessee. The training will be conducted by Carren Broadnax, who is the Resource Linkage Coordinator with the Department of Children's Services for the Knox County Region. The training will be immediately followed by a panel of experts that will provide insight into how to support survivors of assault and how to build safer communities.

The panel includes Judge Vicki Snyder, General Sessions and Juvenile Court Judge in Henry County, Tennessee; Kathryn Ellis, Executive Director of the Knoxville Family Justice Center; Sharon Travis, Outreach and Advocacy Specialist at the Sexual Assault Center in Nashville; and Shan Foster, Executive Director of AMEND Together and Vice President of External Affairs at the YWCA of Nashville and Middle Tennessee. The panel will be moderated by Robin Kimbrough, who is the Special Advisor to the President on United Methodist Affairs and Director of the Ombuds Office at Meharry Medical College.

New Resource Available in for Civil Cases

The Access to Justice Commission is continuing to address issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic, including supporting and promoting about the ADRPlan. The ADRPlan is a project developed by the Alternative Dispute Resolution Commission to assist courts facing a backlog of civil cases caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Plan creates a process that will make mediation more available to litigants with civil disputes. The ADR Commission partnered with three community mediation centers across the state to develop and expedited and efficient way to handle court referrals or orders for mediation.

The ADRPlan sets out timelines and deadlines for the mediation process. Each county has been assigned a community mediation center. The community mediation center will triage requests for mediation from the court. Trained mediators have volunteered to provide the mediation services. The three community mediation centers are: The Mid-South Community Justice & Mediation Center, Inc. in Memphis; the Nashville Conflict Resolution Center; and the Community Mediation Center in Knoxville. The Alternative Dispute Resolution Commission and Access to Justice Commission encourage judges, lawyers, and the members of the general public with pending civil cases to learn more about this valuable resource at https://www.tncourts.gov/ADRPlan.

The mission of the Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission is to provide collaborative leadership to create solutions and resources that address and eliminate barriers to justice for all.