Legal Aid group provides $23M of free aid

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Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands and the attorneys who assist the organization on a pro bono basis through its Volunteer Lawyers Program collectively provided Tennesseans with $23.3 million in free legal assistance and representation in 2015, the non-profit law firm announced today. That's a 2.6 percent increase over 2014.

Throughout the year, Legal Aid Society handled a total of 7,022 cases for low-income families and individuals across the organization's 48-county service area.

"These numbers continue to reflect the importance of legal advocacy across our region. Our staff and our volunteer attorneys spent more than 136,000 hours in 2015 providing critical free civil legal assistance to meet basic needs of Tennesseans who are low-income," said Gary Housepian, Legal Aid Society's executive director. "Every minute spent in the office, on the phone, in the courtroom--wherever we are--is focused directly on fairness in the civil justice system for our clients. Because when justice prevails, we all win."

Legal Aid Society's staff and volunteer attorneys provided assistance and representation over a wide variety of civic legal areas in 2015 including: Family (33 percent), housing (18 percent), consumer (14 percent), income maintenance (13 percent), miscellaneous (9 percent), health (7 percent), employment (5 percent) and individual rights issues (1 percent).

"In 2015 we also began to reach out proactively to people with criminal records through our new re-entry program," Housepian added. "By helping those individuals experience fairness in securing housing, employment and health care as they rebuild their lives after prison, our goal is to help support their strengths and well-being, which can only contribute to building a better community for all of us. Through the help of a Skadden Fellow, we will increase these services in 2016."

The efforts to advance justice stretch far beyond Legal Aid Society's staff, which handled 4,974 cases. In 2015, 758 attorneys across Middle Tennessee and the Cumberland Plateau participated in the Volunteer Lawyers Program by providing pro bono services. The volunteer attorneys donated 5,161 hours of legal assistance, handled 2,029 cases and provided $1.8 million in free legal help to Tennesseans. An additional 126 cases were handled by contract attorneys.

"I don't think we'll ever feel like we're doing enough--there are so many people out there who need access to legal help. But what we do makes a difference," said Sal Varsalona, a volunteer attorney from Forrester & Varsalona and a member of Legal Aid Society's Board of Directors. "It's the gratitude and appreciation of clients that makes me come back clinic after clinic and continue to help."

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