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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 expected to be operating in at least 40 states by the end of 2017. The American Bar Association estimates the program has served close to 2,000 clients since its inception in September of 2016.

Court Debt

Baker Donelson, working with non-profits The National Center for Law and Economic Justice, Civil Rights Corps, and Just City, filed a federal class-action lawsuit in the Middle District of Tennessee challenging a Tennessee statute that requires revocation of driver's licenses for individuals who fail to pay certain litigation taxes, court costs and fines. Since 2012, more than 146,000 driver's licenses have been revoked under this statute, often without any notice to the individual.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 this statute are 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.

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. 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. Attorneys in our Florida offices have been collaborating with the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty in a case challenging the constitutionality of the State of Florida's provision of education to poor and homeless students. Our amicus brief highlights the struggles of homeless students in Florida, and argues that the trial court did not adequately consider their plight in its ruling. Florida has the fourth highest homeless student population in the U.S. – more than 71,000. We have even taken NLCHP's message about the mistreatment of homeless people in the U.S. to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Our commitment to helping to end homelessness runs deep, and our work will continue.

Clemency Project

Several Baker Donelson attorneys across the Firm took on the challenge presented by the national Clemency Project, which sought to submit applications for clemency on behalf of federal inmates who had been sentenced to very harsh prison terms, under old sentencing guidelines, for nonviolent drug offenses. In order to persuade the White House to reduce their sentences, attorneys had to demonstrate not only that the prisoner would have been entitled to a lesser sentence under current guidelines, but also that prospects for the person's productive return to society were good. In all, six Baker Donelson clients won early release, allowing them to return to their families and communities and rebuild their lives. Thanks to the work of Dick Gossett (Chattanooga), Danielle Trostorff (New Orleans), and Michelle Zaltsberg (Orlando), and others, these clients had their sentences significantly reduced, some by a decade or more.

Veterans

As Linda Klein (Atlanta) assumed the office of President of the American Bar Association, she announced a plan to mobilize lawyers to increase legal services for veterans. Linda launched a Veterans Legal Services Initiative with a goal of compiling a comprehensive guide to online resources to inform veterans of local resources. Many Baker Donelson attorneys have strongly supported Linda’s efforts by participating in the provision of services to veterans. Attorneys in Atlanta, New Orleans, and Nashville participated in VA Stand Down events to support veterans in their communities. Baker Donelson's Orlando office partnered with Community Legal Services to Mid-Florida to offer a free CLE training for attorneys to assist veterans with VA Disability Claims, and is now working with pro bono veteran clients to help them obtain the benefits they deserve. The Firm's Washington, D.C. office volunteered at the Neighborhood Legal Services Program's Veterans Legal Assistance Project. Baker Donelson will continue to support veterans who bravely served our nation.

Pro Bono Awards

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

2016 American Bar Association Section of Litigation John Minor Wisdom Public Service and Professionalism Award
Lisa Borden

2016 Alabama State Bar Pro Bono Award
Birmingham office

Louisiana State Bar Association Pro Bono Century Award
Danielle Trostorff, Robert Clotworthy and Mark Mercante

Louisiana Appleseed Good Apple Award
Kathlyn Perez

William Reece Smith Jr. Special Services to Pro Bono Award from The National Association of Pro Bono Professionals
Buck Lewis

Susan Bevil Livingston Award by Legal Aid Society of Birmingham
Lisa Borden

2017 Pro Bono Partnership of Atlanta Volunteer Attorney of the Year
Dorian Kennedy

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