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About the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Initiative

The Tennessee Supreme Court announced its access to justice campaign on December 5, 2008. The Court cited the urgent and tremendous legal needs gap in Tennessee, a gap that is only growing in the current economic situation as Tennessee's indigent and working poor families face more legal problems caused by unemployment, predatory loans, uninsured medical bills, domestic violence, evictions, and foreclosures. The Court hired, through the Administrative Office of the Courts, an Access to Justice Coordinator and made access to justice its number one strategic priority. To date the Court has expanded the team to three roles who run programs such as Tennessee Faith and Justice Alliance, The Tennessee Justice Bus, as well as lead court improvement initiatives.

Defining the Problem

The nearly 100 very dedicated legal aid attorneys in Tennessee are simply unable to assist the nearly million low-income Tennesseans who often face multiple legal problems of these types in a single year. The result is an urgent civil legal needs gap which the Court is trying to help address through its access to justice campaign. The Court is rallying support from the bar, the judiciary, and the public.

The Access to Justice Commission now partners closely with bar associations, legal service organizations, non-profits, and local courts to bring resources and access to Tennessee Communities. The Commission has hosted statewide Eviction's Summits, Pro Bono Summits, and brought national conferences like the Self Represented Litigants Network Conference to Tennessee.

Structure of the Commission

On April 3, 2009, as part of its access to justice campaign, the Court created the Tennessee Access to Justice Commission under the auspices of the Court.  The Tennessee Access to Justice Commission is a small but diverse and dedicated group who volunteer their time to help improve access to justice in Tennessee.  The Commissioners are appointed by the Supreme Court to serve staggered terms of 1-3 years. 

The Commission is made up of 10 members from all three grand divisions of the state.  Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins serves as the Court’s liaison to the Commission and has been very involved in the work of the Commission.  Currently 8 Commissioners are lawyers, and 2 are community leaders. Commission members reflected ethnic, gender and geographic diversity, and each member of the Commission has a strong background in public service initiatives.

Because of the small size of the Commission, it relies heavily on the work of its advisory committees. Currently there are four advisory committees as follows: Pro Bono & Community Engagement, Public Awareness & Partnership, Tools & Resource Development, and Data.