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At Baker Donelson, pro bono service is an integral part of our law practice and our culture. We believe in giving back to our communities, our profession and our system of justice, and we can best do that by contributing our legal skills to individuals and non-profit organizations who need our help. Our commitment to pro bono is strong, and keeps growing stronger every year.

Highlighted below are just a few examples of our pro bono projects.

ABA Free Legal Answers

Buck Lewis's vision to provide a virtual pro bono legal clinic for low-income individuals became a reality thanks to collaborative efforts between Baker Donelson, the Tennessee Bar Association, the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services, and the Tennessee Access to Justice Commission. Online Tennessee Justice, launched in 2009, soon expanded to many other states. It has now become a nationwide program adopted by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, and is known as ABA Free Legal Answers. The program allows for qualified low-income individuals to ask legal questions, through a secure online portal, to be answered by a volunteer attorney. ABA Free Legal Answers is now operating in more than 40 states. The American Bar Association estimates the program's volunteers have responded to more than 70,000 legal problems since its inception.

Prison Conditions

Over a period of decades, U.S. prisons have become warehouses for poor people with mental illnesses. Baker Donelson, together with the Southern Poverty Law Center, represents the plaintiff class of prisoners with serious mental health needs in Alabama's prison system. We brought a lawsuit on behalf of plaintiffs to challenge the horrible conditions and lack of constitutionally adequate mental health care for these prisoners. In 2017, following a lengthy trial, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama issued a landmark ruling, finding that mental health treatment for our clients was "horrendously inadequate" and listing a host of constitutional violations that begin the moment a person with a mental illness enters the prison system. We are continuing to litigate the extensive remedies that will be required to bring Alabama's prisons into compliance with minimal constitutional requirements.

Homelessness

Attorneys at Baker Donelson continuously work to serve those experiencing homelessness by providing them with access to legal representation. Many Baker Donelson offices actively volunteer with the HELP program of legal clinics for the homeless, including Birmingham, Knoxville, Memphis, Nashville and New Orleans. Baker Donelson attorneys founded the Birmingham, Memphis, and Nashville HELP chapters, and they continue to manage the running of the Memphis and Nashville clinics. HELP is a nationwide network providing vital assistance with legal obstacles preventing clients from securing housing, finding a job, or obtaining desperately needed public benefits. Our attorneys are also actively involved with homeless court programs in Birmingham and New Orleans. The collaborative efforts of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and homeless service providers are used to resolve legal issues that prevent homeless clients from escaping the cycle of poverty. If a client is unable to pay fines, these programs work with the client to exchange the fines for community service or other productive activities such as obtaining a driver's license or GED.

Court Debt

Baker Donelson, working with non-profits The National Center for Law and Economic Justice, Civil Rights Corps, and Just City, filed two federal class-action lawsuits in the Middle District of Tennessee challenging Tennessee statutes that require revocation of driver's licenses for individuals who fail to pay certain litigation taxes, court costs and fines. Hundreds of thousands of driver's licenses have been revoked under these statutes, often without any notice to the individual. The vast majority have not been able to regain a license, creating devastating consequences for many of these impoverished Tennessee residents. People affected by these statutes were deprived of a key tool for finding and keeping a job, leading to further inability to pay their debt and trapping the poorest in a cycle of debt, poverty and alienation from their communities. In 2018, plaintiffs won summary judgment in both cases, ending these unconstitutional practices and making thousands of low-income drivers eligible for license reinstatement. The outcome of these cases will have repercussions throughout the country, as many other states have similar laws or practices, and some are already being challenged in litigation.

Immigration

Baker Donelson attorneys are active in representing families fleeing violence in Central America and seeking safety in the United States. Our efforts have resulted in some milestone achievements in an increasingly difficult legal environment. In two recent cases, our attorneys obtained rulings granting our clients relief under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). In one of those rulings, an appellate court held that the Board of Immigration Appeals wrongly refused to consider the "willful blindness" of officials in the client’s home country to the violent threats to his life. Despite recent changes in the Department of Justice's interpretation of asylum laws, making it extremely difficult for victims of domestic violence to obtain asylum, Baker Donelson's attorneys won CAT relief for our client who fled severe domestic abuse by a powerful gang member.

Pro Bono Awards

Recent awards honoring the pro bono service of Baker Donelson attorneys:

Louisiana Appleseed Good Apple Award
Patty McMurray

State Bar of Georgia A Business Commitment Pro Bono Award
Nedom Haley

Community Legal Services of Mid-South Florida
Pro Bono Law Firm of the Year Community

Legal Center of Memphis Champion of Justice
Matt Mulqueen

Press Releases

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