The Tennessee Supreme Court on Dec. 21, 2016, published the 2017 amendments to its rules of procedure and evidence.

Proposals include:

  • changing the place for filing a notice of appeal to the appellate clerk’s office,
  • requiring payment of fees and taxes to the appellate court clerk at the time of initiation of an appeal, and
  • other changes to the rules of appellate procedure, civil procedure, criminal procedure and juvenile procedure, as well as the rules of evidence.

Six Tennessee Bar Association sections — Appellate Practice, Litigation, Tort and Insurance Law, Criminal Justice, Family Law, and Juvenile and Children’s Law —reviewed the rules when proposed and either found no objections or supported the changes.

The proposals now go to the legislature for ratification before becoming effective on July 1.


Court Amends Pro Se Divorce Forms
The Tennessee Supreme Court in December issued an order revising pro se forms to be used in uncontested divorce cases with minor children. The court reports that its Access to Justice Commission requested the change to make it clear that spouses with orders of protection may use the forms. These updated documents replace the forms published by the court in October 2016. The forms were in use beginning Jan. 1.


Day Set Aside for Volunteering 
April 1 is HELP4TN Day in which attorneys have the opportunity to volunteer their time to assist disadvantaged Tennesseans at pro bono legal clinics and public service events all across the state.

To volunteer or learn more, contact help4tnday@tncourts.The awareness campaign is a joint effort by the Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission, the Administrative Office of the Courts, Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services, and the Tennessee Bar Association. 

Other partners include Legal Aid of Middle Tennessee, Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands, Memphis Area Legal Services, and West Tennessee Legal Services.

Federal Funding Approved for Wildfire Legal Hotline, Volunteer to Help
A toll-free legal assistance hotline, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is available for those in Sevier County who need wildfire-related legal assistance but are unable to afford an attorney.

The toll-free line is “piggy backing” on the existing legal help line hosted by the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS): 1-844-HELP4TN (1-844-435-7486). Callers may leave a message between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. CST and will receive a return call from a volunteer attorney.

For more information or to volunteer in the area, contact Kathryn Ellis at Legal Aid of East Tennessee at help4tnday@tncourts. Those who are not in the area but still want to help can volunteer to answer online questions at TN Free Legal Answers or respond to calls on the HELP4TN helpline.

New Laws

New Laws Affect Mandatory Minimum Sentences, Drunk Drivers 
A number of new state laws went into effect at the first of this year.

One of them says that people who are convicted of three or more domestic violence crimes will be charged with a felony instead of a misdemeanor, and those found guilty of a third felony burglary or drug charge will face a mandatory minimum sentence. The law also sets the mandatory minimum period of time to be served to at least 85 percent of time sentenced.

Another new law mandates that drunk drivers who kill someone must get jail time. A list of bills, organized by public chapter, that became effective Jan. 1 are available on the TBA web site.


Report: Law Firm Diversity Slow to Change 
A recent report by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) indicates that diversity in law firms is moving at an “incredibly slow pace of change.” A review of the report by the ABA Journal indicates that the percentage of female and black associates at law firms increased slightly in 2016, though the representation is still below 2009 levels. The report also found increases in the percentage of female and black partners, as well as increases in Asian and Hispanic lawyers at the partner and associate levels.


Female Law Students Now Outnumber Males 
For the first time since data on the issue has been collected, women now outnumber men as law students, according to Deborah Merritt, a professor at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law. Her research, however, indicates that on average, higher ranking law schools still have significantly smaller percentages of female students. According to other analysts, the reports show that 80 percent of ABA-accredited law schools have experienced double-digit percentage decreases in students admitted, and total 2016 law school enrollment is the lowest it has been since 1974.


The Tennessee Bar Association’s annual Leadership Conference in Nashville Jan. 13-14 included the Public Service Awards Luncheon, programming about evolving legal markets, artificial intelligence, a legislative update and other events.

This year’s Diversity Leadership Institute kicked off during the weekend, with its opening session and programming. The TBA Board of Governors, House of Delegates and the Young Lawyers Division board also met.

Former Nashville mayor and professor at Belmont University Karl Dean was the keynote speaker at the Public Service Luncheon. As a public defender, he said he did “incredibly meaningful work. I felt like I was doing something important. This type of work is intrinsically fulfilling and interesting. We need to communicate this to young people.” He said the award honorees “had changed lives” with each of their contributions.

The Harris Gilbert Pro Bono Volunteer of the Year Award was presented to Susan Gruber, by Harris Gilbert, for her work with the Chattanooga office of Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET). The Ashley T. Wiltshire Public Service Attorney of the Year Award went to Richard Taylor, an assistant public defender in the 23rd Judicial District for his efforts on behalf of the district’s drug court. Ashley Wiltshire presented the award. And the Law Student Volunteer of the Year is Kirsten Jacobson, a University of Tennessee law grad who is now an Equal Justice Works Fellow, working at the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services. During law school, she logged more than 900 hours of pro bono work and increased overall student pro bono participation. (Read more about each of them in the January 2017 TBJ.)

Gruber said voluteering at LAET has opened her eyes to the generosity of those around her, from clients and lawyers. “I see generosity in the sacrifice of attorneys,” she said, praising those who volunteer for legal clinics.Volunteering gives her a good vantange point, she said, to be see compassion, gratitude and forgiveness.

In accepting his award, Taylor said, “It is nice being paid to do what I’m supposed to be doing anyway. It makes a difference in people’s lives.” 

“All we do to stand up for the poor strengthens our country,” TBA President Jason Long said. These access to justice efforts are “the most important work we do in many respects.”

          | TBA Law Blog