Professor of Law, University of Tennessee College of Law
Director, Institute for Professional Leadership
In 2009, as he participated in a Tennessee Supreme Court hearing on access to justice, Buck Lewis* noticed other lawyers in attendance were busy reading and sending emails on their Blackberries. Buck had what seemed like a simple idea. He thought we should find some way for lawyers to give legal advice by email to clients who could not afford lawyers.
Soon after the hearing, the Court established the Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission. Buck, as one of the ten inaugural commissioners, had a chance to make his idea a reality. He knew that vetting of clients and lawyers would be needed, so efforts were focused on a web-based platform. Thanks to Buck’s leadership and hard work, and the hard work of lots of other folks like the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services and the IT department at Buck’s firm, Baker Donelson, who developed the software, OnlineTNJustice was launched in 2010. Within no time, lawyers were answering questions for people in need all across Tennessee. By August 2015, over 10,000 questions had been answered.
Soon other states became interested. And then Buck became a member, and ultimately chair, of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service. With the support of the committee and a series of ABA presidents, OnlineTNJustice went national as ABA Free Legal Answers (ABA-FLA).
Buck never looked back. Thirty-eight states are now part of ABA-FLA. Three more are in the process of joining. Both the UK and Australia have launched their own versions. There are now over 7000 lawyer volunteers answering questions. Most important, this month the program will mark the milestone of over 100,000 questions answered and people helped.
So please join me in thanking and congratulating Buck and all the people that helped make ABA Free Legal Answers a reality! And please enjoy this video that celebrates this milestone.
*Buck Lewis is a senior partner with the Baker Donelson firm. Buck is also a founder of the Institute for Professional Leadership and serves as the Larry Wilks Distinguished Practitioner in Residence.