I read an article in the Tennessean last month about the need and demand for free legal services in Tennessee exceeding the supply. The article pointed out that individuals facing criminal charges are constitutionally entitled to legal representation. But of course, this same guarantee does not apply in civil court. This is a major initiative of Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Janice M. Holder, who recently unveiled the Court’s Justice For All program. The article mentioned the three primary ways that indigent people find legal assistance.
First, there is the Legal Aid Society, which represented almost 1,100 cases last year, but had to turn down many more cases.
Second, there is the traditional pro bono attorney. All attorneys are required by the Code of Professional Responsibility to do some amount of pro bono work, and despite the nasty image people often have of attorneys, most attorneys I know do pro bono work willingly and enthusiastically. The joke around most offices is that attorneys don’t mind doing pro bono work, we just like to be able to decide which ones are the pro bono ones.
Finally, I note that the Nashville Bar Association has launched a Modest Means Panel which will attempt to match attorneys with clients who have legal problems but can only afford to pay a certain amount per hour (in this case, no more than $75).
The reality is that most people cannot afford legal services on any kind of regular basis, and an unexpected legal emergency can be just as devastating as a medical emergency. One of the points I try to raise with folks who have questions regarding contracts or other business issues, is that they should not be afraid to consult with an attorney to avoid potential legal troubles later. I think all of us are in a position of wanting to help people and help them keep their legal problems from expanding.