Recently, Andre Mathis discussed his passion for social justice work to drive awareness for the American Bar Association’s Pro Bono Week. November is also a time when many re-focus on a spirit of service and reflect on pro bono service provided throughout the year, amongst them Butler Snow’s Pro Bono Counsel Linda Warren Seely. Here’s what Linda has to say about how she’s used her legal expertise to serve.
Serving those Who Serve the Community
Thanksgiving is a time when many people take stock of their blessings, but the holidays are not a time of plenty for everyone. Therefore, it is also a time when we can share those blessings with our community. I have been lucky enough, over the course of my career, to apply my law practice largely to pro bono work. In my role at Butler Snow, I lead a pro bono committee, research, review and recommend new projects, organize and espouse policies around our service, and create relationships with organizations in need of free legal help.
There is no question that my colleagues also practice with a heart for service. Butler Snow strongly encourages its attorneys to participate in pro bono activities. This is because there are so many organizations that are in critical need of legal support in order to facilitate the good work they do, but also because we can attest that community involvement keeps us motivated and passionate about our practices. A few recent areas of focus for us have included matters involving elder abuse, nursing home facilities, conservatorships, the Tennessee Innocence Project and Revitalize Mississippi, just to name a few.
Recent Work We are Thankful For
For anyone that has been keeping up with our blog, you’ll know that Andre Mathis is one of the firm’s most passionate supporters of our work with the Tennessee Innocence Project. Our attorneys also help with other innocence and expungement projects, like the International Paper Signature Pro Bono Initiative. In the state of Tennessee, for instance, people who are aiming to expunge their records must first pay all court and legal fees. But this is a huge hurdle for many, so attorneys aid individuals by petitioning the court on their behalf to have fees waived. Then, individuals can have records expunged and their rights restored. I’m so proud to say that the firm is being recognized by the Memphis Bar Association as a 2021 Champion of Justice for this work.
We’ve also been working with Revitalize Mississippi, a nonprofit that works with the state to identify properties that are blighted. These properties are then acquired and rehabbed by the organization. Our attorneys have been working to file actions on behalf of the nonprofit to clear the title of the properties in order to make the property title clear and marketable.
The pandemic has also had a significant impact on our pro bono work, as we’ve seen an increased need for pro bono work in a lot of the areas we serve. For example, we’ve seen a rise in eviction notices when the moratorium lifted, which meant the demand for legal assistance in landlord/tenant issues increased as well. Additionally, there has been an incredible pivot from the justice system having to do everything virtually while COVID-19 created compounding challenges across the board and especially in lower income communities.
Working For Justice and our Future Pro Bono Work
If you work in the legal profession, you likely have a very keen sense of justice. The way I view justice is ensuring people feel they have been heard by a neutral and fair jury. Win or lose, I believe justice is inextricably tied to treating people with dignity and respect—and fairness.
The work that Butler Snow attorneys do reflects this concept of justice, and it’s also what continues to guide me toward our next pro bono projects. We look forward to continuing innocence projects as well as expungement and land revitalization work, among the many other projects we are involved in. We will also remain committed to our work for elders and other marginalized communities while expanding our support of those communities and beyond. In the coming year, I aim to find projects that tackle refugee, immigration and resettlement work. Read any news source and you’ll see what a huge issue this is, only exacerbated by the pandemic and geopolitical conflict.
Because pro bono work has kept me motivated throughout my career, I naturally want to help other professionals become involved as well.
Pro bono work is an exceptional way for attorneys to expand their practice—no matter their age or years of practice. It’s also an impactful way to gain leadership experience and new opportunities, therefore it is extremely important for young professionals. My advice to those early in their careers is to embrace service. You have an obligation not only to your clients and firm, but also to the community where you live and practice law. Concurrently, our pro bono work helps hone and sharpen our talent.
Those of us that choose to practice law also have an obligation to the justice system—it’s an obligation to uphold the legal framework while ensuring that the system works for everybody. Lawyers play a critical role in maintaining society’s respect for the rule of law because when we don’t have a system that serves everyone, people lose faith in the system.
As we enter the holiday season and gear up for pro bono projects in 2022, I’m thankful to my colleagues who have dedicated themselves to serving their communities and social justice, as well as the opportunity to continue leading Butler Snow’s pro bono work. I am proud that the organizations we have the privilege to serve are supported by my talented colleagues across our firm’s footprint. Ultimately, a dedication to service has the power to enhance the legal profession and strengthen our communities.