HELP4TN Days to Provide Free Legal Services to Tennesseans Statewide

April 5, 2019

The Tennessee Supreme Court has designated Saturday, April 6 as the kickoff for the third annual HELP4TN Days, a time dedicated to bringing free legal resources to Tennesseans in need. Throughout the month of April, more than 100 free legal clinics will be held throughout the state, and online and phone-based legal services will be offered to residents who cannot make it to a legal clinic.

“The legal system can be confusing and intimidating to many,” Chief Justice Jeff Bivins said. “The goal of the Court’s Access to Justice Initiative is to help Tennesseans get the legal assistance they need when and where they need it.”

Contrary to popular belief, individuals do not have the right to an attorney in most civil legal actions, including evictions, debt collection, family law matters including domestic violence, expungements, employment issues, and other civil legal problems. Currently, nearly 1 million Tennesseans live under the federal poverty line and are unlikely to be able to afford an attorney. Federal data shows that 71 percent of low-income households experienced at least one civil legal problem last year and 70 percent of those households said the issue significantly impacted their lives. Currently, there are less than 100 legal aid staff attorneys in Tennessee. To address this disparity between needs and resources, the Tennessee Supreme Court created its Access to Justice Commission in 2009.

“In the past 10 years, we have seen Tennessee go from having a somewhat dismal record on access to justice to regularly being listed among the top 10 states nationally,” Justice Connie Clark, who is the Supreme Court’s liaison to the Commission, said. “This is the direct result of groups and attorneys coming together to solve this problem. Access to Justice is a priority across the state, and we are making a difference in the lives of Tennesseans. On almost any given weekend, you will find a free legal clinic at work somewhere in the state.”

The heart of access to justice work in Tennessee rests with the hundreds of houses of worship, community organizations, colleges and universities, and other groups that host free legal advice clinics on a regular basis. In 2017, Tennessee attorneys provided more than 652,555 hours of pro bono legal services valued at over $130 million. The most common groups assisted were single parents, ethnic minorities, elderly persons, victims of domestic violence, rural residents, and veterans. The most common areas of law addressed were family law, elder law, domestic violence, and contracts.

“Providing pro bono services has become part of the legal culture in Tennessee,” Justice Holly Kirby said. “Last year, more than half of Tennessee attorneys did pro bono work, which was a long-standing goal of the Access to Justice Commission. In just a few minutes, a lawyer can change the trajectory of a life by sitting down with someone and sorting through their legal issues.”

In addition to free legal advice clinics set up around the state on HELP4TN Day, online and phone services will also be available.

“The Court recognizes that many of our rural or elderly residents cannot always get to a clinic for help,” Justice Sharon G. Lee said. “Over the past several years, we have greatly increased the availability of court-approved forms, online resources, court kiosks, and other programs to use technology to bring services to the people where they need it.”

Some of the clinics are general advice clinics handling a variety of issues while others are limited in topic.  For example, four expungement-focused clinics will be held on April 27 in Nashville, Clarksville, Oak Ridge, and Hardeman County.

“Expungements are often key to helping an individual obtain employment, housing, or college admission or loans,” Justice Roger A. Page said. “The benefits of expungements are far-reaching, and there is often an inequity between higher income and lower income individuals being able to obtain legal assistance to process an expungement.”

For a complete list of HELP4TN events across the state, please visit help4tn.org or call (844) HELP4TN (844-435-7486)