Local Chattanooga lawyer John Jolley did not aspire to practice law when he first arrived on the campus of Tennessee Tech University as a transfer student from Roane State Community College in 2009.
Yet by his senior year, Mr. Jolley was president of Tech’s pre-law society, charting a path that led him to his current role as a staff attorney in Chattanooga with Legal Aid of East Tennessee, a nonprofit law firm providing free legal representation to underserved populations.
“I think I was a little rudderless before I got to Tennessee Tech,” said Mr. Jolley. “Tech was where I found the ability to direct where I wanted to go in life.”
After a stint with Legal Aid’s offices in Johnson City, where he focused on helping clients with Social Security and TennCare denials, consumer debt issues and evictions, Mr. Jolley and his wife, fellow attorney Karen Anderson Jolley, moved to Chattanooga.
Here, he spends his days at the Chattanooga Family Justice Center representing victims of domestic violence in civil legal matters including orders of protection, custody proceedings and divorce.
While many of Mr. Jolley’s clients are lower-income Chattanoogans who could not otherwise afford legal representation, Mr. Jolley says finances are not the only consideration for whom Legal Aid will assist.
“People who are victims of domestic violence can have difficulty getting an attorney immediately, no matter their income. They may be cut off from marital funds. So, we want to be there to help them,” he explained. Legal Aid can represent victims of domestic violence regardless of financial status.
An active member of the Tennessee Valley’s legal community, Mr. Jolley serves as president-elect of the Chattanooga Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division and as a board member for the Tennessee Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division. While other career opportunities are never far from reach, Mr. Jolley says he finds purpose in the mission of his nonprofit firm and the clients he serves.
“I’ve represented victims in some of the most heinous crimes one can imagine – attempted murder, sexual assault and child sexual abuse to name a few. It is difficult and taxing, but it is also incredibly rewarding to be entrusted to represent these vulnerable populations within our community who have been so victimized,” said Mr. Jolley. “It’s meant a lot to me.”
Mr. Jolley adds that “Sometimes it’s hard to separate out these incredibly emotional areas of law from the rest of your life, but it is also an area where you can be most confident that you’ve really done something to help somebody. I benefit from having some incredible coworkers and community partners, too. Legal Aid has been a great firm to work for in terms of the way they support their staff.”
In recent years, Mr. Jolley found a new outlet to balance the demands of his day job: woodworking. While he doesn’t sell his wares for profit, he has been making and donating hand-carved bowls, platters, pens and other items since 2019 under the name Jolley Good Woods. Today, his creations are a popular fixture at silent auctions benefiting Legal Aid, Ronald McDonald House and other charitable causes around town.
Mr. Jolley’s woodworking also made its way to famed historian, presidential biographer and Chattanooga native Jon Meacham, whom Mr. Jolley gifted a handmade walnut burl pen after a speaking event in Chattanooga last fall.
“I had read several of his books. I really respect his voice and so I wanted to make something as a show of appreciation,” said Mr. Jolley.
While family law will always be a passion for Mr. Jolley, his most important project to date is outside of the courtroom. Mr. Jolley and his wife Karen welcomed their first child in January, a son named Hank.
As the new father looks to the future, he says he feels gratitude for the foundation that Tennessee Tech provided.
“I made a home and found community in the political science department and my pre-law classes at Tech,” said Mr. Jolley. “Tech did a lot to prepare me for the future.”