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Free legal services to be offered as part of Celebrate Pro Bono initiative

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Tennessee lawyers will offer free legal services to those unable to afford a lawyer throughout October as part of the Celebrate Pro Bono initiative.

Activities kicked off earlier this week with four legal clinics, the first of more than 60 events planned across the state.

A pro bono clinic is planned beginning at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 15 in Legal Ais Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands’ Oak Ridge office.

The office is at 226B Broadway, Jackson Square. Call 865-483-8454 or toll free at 1-800-483-8457.

“Throughout the month of October, we have the opportunity to increase awareness about the justice gap that exists for those who cannot afford legal assistance and also take tangible steps toward closing that gap through a focus on increasing pro bono service,” said Tennessee Bar Association President Cindy Wyrick.

“The initiative provides an opportunity for us to increase our efforts to recruit, train and utilize legal volunteers and to mobilize community support for pro bono services,” she added, “while at the same time honoring the amazing efforts of Tennessee's legal community over the past year.”

This year's celebration builds on the success of the 2012 initiative, during which more than 350 volunteers — including lawyers, law students, paralegals and language interpreters — assisted thousands of clients with issues ranging from domestic violence protection to landlord disputes and debt management.

New this year is a focus on rural areas of the state with more than 15 legal clinics planned in non-metro areas.

Tennessee Bar Association reports the need for free legal assistance is evident given that:

• One in five Tennesseans is living at or below the poverty line.

• One in five Tennesseans cannot afford to pay for basic legal assistance.

• There are only 81 paid legal aid lawyers in the state, which means that for every 12,658 low-income Tennesseans eligible for assistance, there is only one legal aid lawyer.

• Less than 30 percent of those living below the poverty line are aware that assistance is available to help them with their legal problems.

Tennessee lawyers are helping to meet this need by volunteering during Celebrate Pro Bono Month and throughout the year.

"While there is an ever-increasing need for pro bono legal services, I am always amazed by the extraordinary response from Tennessee lawyers to meet these demands," Wyrick said.

"Celebrate Pro Bono Month, now in its fifth year, is the perfect opportunity to acknowledge that, together, we make a difference by increasing meaningful access to justice for those most in need in our state,” she added.

“I encourage all attorneys, as well as law students and other members of the legal community to devote time and resources to pro bono programs in their area."