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Welcome to Memphis Area Legal Services, Inc.’s Website
A Case For Your Support!
Memphis Area Legal Services, Inc. (MALS) entered its fifth decade with the same commitment and determination that inspired 30 members of the legal profession in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King’s death to coalesce around a shared vision to establish an organization whose single purpose was to provide a means by which the legal problems of the poor could be addressed.
Today, MALS continues that tradition of “excellence in legal advocacy,” as a non-profit, public service law firm committed to provide the highest quality legal assistance possible to the most vulnerable residents of our community.
Even with a dedicated staff, it cannot meet the overwhelming demand for legal assistance today. The challenges are more acute because the widening of the “justice gap” is exacerbated by the economic woes of our time. The recent census reveals that more than 57 million individuals live at or below the poverty line, representing more than a 14 million increase since the 2000 Decennial Census.
The 2011 Campaign for Equal Justice exceeded its $325,000 goal and reached an unprecedented milestone of raising over $350,000.We thank George “Buck” Lewis and the Campaign Cabinet for its tireless efforts. Even that amount is not enough. We had to cut expenses, predictably, in the personnel area. We are down 10.5 full-time equivalent positions caused by a loss of over $300,000 entering 2012 fiscal year, largely due to nearly a 20% reduction in federal funding. Consequently, your support in 2012 through your volunteerism (pro bono) and gifts are more crucial today than ever.
What can you do? Please volunteer your time willingly and generously contribute to the campaign. To give a tax-deductible gift, select “Contribute Now” at the top of the page.
Again, welcome to our website. We hope you find it informative and leave with a better understanding of the various activities and important services we provide our community.
2012/2013 ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS
See 2011 Article Highlights
See 2010 Article Highlights
See 2009 Article Highlights
See 2008 Article Highlights
On the second floor, of this brown almost non-descript building at the corner of Adams and Main sits the heart of justice for many in the Midsouth. Harrison McIver, Executive Director of the Memphis Area Legal Services says, "We provide legal assistance without cost, we don't charge a fee to low income individuals primarily seniors." He says the program operates with a constantly dwindling budget and a staff of forty people to handle thousands of clients who can't afford to pay an attorney. McIver says, "We get over 20,000 calls a year, and we can only entertain, really entertain a third of those." He says his office doesn't operate in luxury with the sheer volume of clients, it operates with basic necessities including pro-bono attorney's, staff and volunteers. McIver also admits, "If our staff is not paid, there is no Memphis Area Legal Services because there is nobody here to staff, we have to do everything, everybody else does in a law firm, we're just salaried and we don't charge a fee." Read More and See Video
Patricia Hines decided to bring out the big guns after getting calls at the Department of Veterans Affairs from former servicemen and women who would ask her legal questions she couldn’t answer. Hines, veterans justice coordinator for the VA, enlisted the help of Memphis Area Legal Services, the Memphis Bar Association and other officials to help veterans with their legal problems Tuesday at the VA’s off-site campus on Union Avenue. “I wanted to open this clinic so they could have that professional legal counsel,” said Hines. “They need help with expunging records, dealing with fines and child support, and other legal matters. We want to help them fix anything that can keep them from progressing in the future.” Read More
Burch, Porter & Johnson PLLC and probate attorney Beth Bradley have been honored for giving back to the community. The firm and the lawyer were recently recognized at the seventh annual Corporate Counsel Pro Bono Initiative Gala in Nashville with the Corporate Counsel Pro Bono Law Firm Award for a partnership with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital that involves helping low-income families manage treatment of their children at the hospital. The collaborative effort with St. Jude began when Linda Seely, president of the Memphis Bar Association and director of private attorney involvement with Memphis Area Legal Services, “perceived there might be a need at St. Jude for legal services,” Bradley said. “Once they (patients) become adults, they need a legal representative to give permission on their behalf to continue the treatment.” Read More
Harrison McIver has entered his 15th year as executive director of Memphis Area Legal Services Inc. with a daunting challenge that’s as constant as it is acute. Funding is as critical to the organization as it’s ever been right now, for a host of reasons. Outside funding sources have been pulling in their reins, but the need for the services of MALS, which exists to provide legal help for needy Memphians, has grown considerably as the economy tanked. Access to justice even for – really, especially for – people with limited means is something that’s close to McIver’s heart, and he frequently points to the preamble to the U.S. Constitution as justification. Read More
Shayla Purifoy majored in urban studies – a mixture of history, political science and sociology – at Rhodes College. Her senior seminar was on community policing. “It was so much fun, it was so exciting,” she said about her time spent shadowing police officers on the job. “They were helping people and they really were impacting that area, which was the Madison Heights area.” With this experience, and the mentorship of Mike Kirby, her professor at Rhodes, a goal was realized. “I decided that I was going to be a cop and no one could tell me any differently,” she said. “I started gun training, I started doing pushups and sit-ups, I was crawling over the wall at the police academy so I could run on their track to be prepared. And then I changed my mind.” Read More
More than 350 Memphis-area seniors turned out at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library to learn about everything from banking to benefits and burial during the RISE Foundation’s Key End of Life Financial Decisions seminar on Feb. 8. There, they received vital information about a topic that’s often hard to discuss, preparation for death. “This critical part of life should be of dignity, comfort, sound decisions, controlled cost, and community support. But it will require planning,” said Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, who joined representatives from the Department of Human Services, Probate Court and Memphis Area Legal services in speaking to attendees. For over 10 years, RISE has helped empower people to become self-sufficient by building and sustaining human and financial assets. Their programs provide assistance to low-income working families, youths and seniors. The recent event was an extension of that work under their existing grant through the National Neighbors Silver program. Read More
Memphis sales and marketing firm RedRover Co. was one of 10 Pro Bono award recipients at a recent recognition event in Downtown Memphis as part of Celebrate Pro Bono Month in October. The event was held by the Memphis Bar Association’s Access to Justice Committee, the Community Legal Center and Memphis Area Legal Services Inc. to honor their outstanding volunteers. RedRover has volunteered to help with several Memphis Area Legal Services projects throughout the year, including a video campaign to raise awareness of the need for more pro bono legal services and private donations. RedRover Co. designed the 2012 “We’re All In” campaign to put a face to the legal aid Memphis Area Legal Services provides to those in need and to encourage the community to contribute. Read More
The Ben F. Jones chapter of the National Bar Association has tapped new officers and board members for 2013. And the group’s president-elect talks about the group’s work in a way that heralds a continuing service to the Memphis community. Imad Abdullah, an associate in the Memphis office of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC, is the Ben F. Jones chapter’s president-elect. Abdullah said his group intends to be at the vanguard of helping MALS, which long has been a champion of the impoverished who need legal help but can’t afford it. Memphis Area Legal Services currently is in the midst of a capital campaign to raise funds to continue supporting its work. “Our work has basically been focused on issues such as access to justice,” Abdullah said. “At the Barrister’s Ball we honored Judge John Fowlkes and Frank Cantrell and Harrison McIver of MALS. They had a shortfall of funding this year, MALS did, and the work they do is so important. We’re looking toward the future not just honoring them with an award but the chapter trying to be out front in helping them with their mission.” Read More
By day, she works in finance. But in her spare time, Jillian Sweet works to help others, and that's where her passion lies. In 2009, Sweet founded On Our Own of Memphis, a nonprofit group that provides social opportunities for young adults with developmental disabilities to increase their independence and improve their quality of life.
What challenges did you face getting an organization off the ground?
Money! That was definitely a barrier when trying to start the group. Luckily, I found a nonprofit legal group (Memphis Area Legal Services) that matched with me a lawyer (Sean Hord) who did all our work pro bono. It was a tremendous help to us; I had no clue where to even start the process. Read More
The description of Memphis Area Legal Services Inc. as a law firm works in some ways. But unlike conventional law firms, the attorneys work with clients across several institutional boundaries that might not ordinarily be part of the services offered by a conventional law firm. And while those law firms compete with each other for business, the legal services agency relies on some of the city’s largest law firms as a front line of financial support during its annual capital campaign. “We are not here to do anything but help make Memphis a better place to live for everybody. Justice is everybody’s business. We play our part,” said MALS executive director and CEO Harrison McIver. “We need the assistance. We need the financial support as well as volunteers to help us achieve access to justice and equal justice under the law, which is etched on the U.S. Supreme Court building. We are essential to that but we are not exclusive.” “We froze salaries. We froze other benefits like retirement,” McIver said. “We’ve taken very austere measures in order to keep the doors open and keep the services going without further reductions in staff.” The organization has lost 10 full-time employees in the last two years. Read More
Diversity and access to justice are some of the watchwords often heard around Memphis legal circles these days. Diversity, because of the continued concern that both men and women get equal shots at advancing up the ranks from law school all the way to the corner office. Access to justice, because of everything from the recession’s grinding toll to the ever-present scars of poverty in Memphis that all combine to make legal problems harder than ever to pay for. All of it springs from a similar place. Harrison McIver, executive director and CEO of Memphis Area Legal Services Inc., a nonprofit group that exists to provide legal help to needy Memphians, takes it all the way back to the beginning of the U.S. Constitution. On the pro bono and access to justice front, Memphis Area Legal Services is raising funds to continue supporting its work. To underscore its importance: about 19,000 people called MALS for help in 2011. The organization also raised a record $350,000 last year from private donations, but it still had to lay off staff because of congressional budget cuts that offset the additional funding. George “Buck” Lewis, a shareholder in Baker Donelson’s Memphis office, said pro bono work has never been more critical to the Memphis community because of historic levels of poverty in the city, state and country. Read More
October was National Pro Bono Month in the legal profession, a time when attorneys are urged to use their knowledge for the greater good and help those in need. The Tennessee Supreme Court has written that “a lawyer should aspire to render at least 50 hours of pro bono publico legal services per year.” Though this is more of a suggestion than a mandate, many attorneys do want to help, and that’s where Linda Warren Seely, director of private attorney involvement for Memphis Area Legal Services Inc., comes in. Seely was born in Michigan and grew up in places such as Texas, Louisiana, Chicago and New Jersey as her father climbed a corporate ladder with Warner-Lambert pharmaceutical company. Knowing he wanted to end up back in the South, the family made its last move to Memphis, where Seely entered the University of Memphis to study education. But she soon decided to change directions and found herself, instead, preparing for law school. “I chose the law because it seems to fit with my interest in helping people and in politics and history,” Seely said. “What I do now is by far the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life,” Seely said. “I’m a Christian and to me, this is like mission work and I feel like I can really make a difference for so many people in a way that I was not able to make in private practice.” Read More
Last April, a woman arriving to work at ServiceMaster in East Memphis was slain in the parking lot by her husband, who then took his life while co-workers watched. About the same time, a woman working for First Horizon urgently needed medical care at her home and though her life was in danger, but her husband denied her care. She was saved when concerned co-workers ultimately triggered a home visit by Memphis police. Panelists at a workshop highlighting the need for domestic violence awareness and policies for Memphis-area employers on Thursday used statistics, warnings of legal liability ranging from $1 million to $40 million and real-world examples to support the point. An attorney who helps abuse victims obtain civil orders of protection, Shayla Purifoy of Memphis Area Legal Services, also advised employers to have zero tolerance for domestic violence, but recommended more understanding for victims. "The last thing you want to do is give the abuser power by firing that person," Purifoy said. Read More
Memphis Area Legal Services (MALS) is launching its “We’re All In” campaign targeting legal professionals with a goal of increasing private donations and decreasing the organization’s government dependence. MALS helps more than 12,000 people annually, but with government funding down by 18 percent this year and trending toward even more significant decreases, the organization’s budget could come down over $500,000 by 2014. That translates to turning away 8,400 people in need of legal services, and MALS already has to turn away 66 percent of applicants because of lack of funding. Read More
Eighteen former Schnucks workers have alleged fraud and deception by the St. Louis-based grocery chain in its dealings with employees before last year's sale of Memphis area stores to Kroger. A lawsuit seeks back pay and damages for the employees, who contend Schnucks officials lied about plans to sell the chain and violated a federal law on layoff notification. The lawsuit was filed in mid-August by Memphis Area Legal Services Inc. and was removed to U.S. District Court in Memphis Tuesday on a motion from Schnucks' attorneys. Frank Cantrell, legal services deputy director and general counsel, said the lawsuit speaks for itself. He added, "Memphis Area Legal Services represents 18 hardworking people who worked for Schnucks. They deserved to be told the truth. Instead, what they were told was not true, and they suffered real harm." Read More
Context for a capital drive launched by Memphis Area Legal Services Inc. to pull the organization back from the financial brink can be found in MALS’ history, including its formation in the wake of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Low-income Memphians needed courtroom champions and general legal counsel, and they still do. The organization currently is in a tight spot financially, though, which is the reason for its “We’re All In” campaign. MALS got started in the first place thanks to more than two dozen attorneys led by former Tennessee Attorney General Mike Cody, and in June 1968 the Neighborhood Legal Services Project opened its doors in the old Centenary Methodist Church on Mississippi Boulevard. MALS later settled on its current name to better reflect its expansion of service into Fayette, Lauderdale and Tipton counties.Read More
Memphis Area Legal Services Inc. exists to provide crucial legal help and representation to needy Memphians. To keep doing that in the face of continued funding cuts and a consistently full caseload, though, the organization has decided it could use a little help of its own. To underscore the situation now facing the organization: about 19,000 people called MALS for help in 2011. The organization also raised a record $350,000 last year from private donations, but it still had to lay off staff because of congressional budget cuts that offset the additional funding. “We must help MALS reduce dependency on governmental funding before our community is in dire straits,” reads a flyer that’s been prepared as part of the campaign. “And that starts at home – with you. With the legal community on board and ‘all in,’ we are in a much stronger position for a general public appeal in 2013.” Read More
Sonja White's passion for defending domestic violence victims stems from the childhood experience of watching a lady in her South Memphis neighborhood get brutally beaten by her husband on a regular basis. "It seemed like every Friday night he'd be outside beating her brains out," said White, managing attorney for the Domestic Violence/Family Law Unit of Memphis Area Legal Services Inc. "As a kid, you become desensitized. It became almost like entertainment. Violence in people's home was something no one got involved with." Sexual assault is becoming prevalent, and Memphis is not alone in that. There are just too many barriers for victims to overcome to be found credible enough to prosecute offenders. And there are a lot of same-sex cases that we are uncomfortable with as a community that we need to take more seriously. Read More
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell remembers when he became passionate about elder care. After being elected Shelby County Sheriff in 2002, Luttrell learned of a group within the office who would check on the welfare of area residents, often elderly people who don't have loved ones nearby. "I became convinced this was a public safety issue," he said. Luttrell spoke of the importance of caring for older residents at a World Elder Abuse Awareness Day event at Lindenwood Christian Church Friday morning, bringing together a variety of resources to protect the elderly. The event was presented by Memphis Jewish Home & Rehab, YWCA, the Aging Commission of the Mid-South, Shelby County Crime Victims Center and Memphis Area Legal Services. Read More
Ahsaki Baptist, an associate in the Memphis office of Wyatt Tarrant & Combs LLP who’s been with the firm for five years, was surrounded by the law growing up. She also enjoys pro bono work, and is proud of Wyatt Tarrant’s focus on it. “When I first started, I got involved with Memphis Area Legal Services and got a pro bono case,” she said. “I think a lot of times you don’t realize how special lawyers are, in the fact that we have a special skill that can help people. “The fact that I was able to help one of my pro bono clients that wouldn’t otherwise have been able to get legal assistance – I think that really brings home why I’m doing what I’m doing.” Read More
At a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) introduced Judge John Thomas Fowlkes, Jr., of Memphis, nominated to be United States District Judge for the Western District of Tennessee, calling him a “nominee.” Alexander said in his introduction of Judge Fowlkes:... ...“I knew his reputation but I took the time after the president nominated to study his qualifications further and to meet personally with him and I’m impressed. He devotes 50 hours a year of service to the Board of Memphis Area Legal Services, he’s active in support of the Boy Scouts, he’s devoted himself to the community in which he lives. I’m sure the committee will carefully examine his judicial qualifications, but from my vantage point his reputation is excellent, he’s served well as a judge for our state, he’s well respected in his community, and I would recommend that the committee approve him and move him on to the Senate for full consideration. Read More
Memphis Area Legal Services Inc. has been awarded a $53,000 grant by the Internal Revenue Service. The award was part of $9 million in matching grants the IRS is making to organizations in 2012 that provide Low Income Taxpayer Clinics. MALS was one of three organizations in the state to receive the funds. Low Income Tax Clinics represent low-income taxpayers in federal tax controversies with the IRS for free or for a nominal charge and/or provide tax education and outreach for taxpayers who speak English as a second language. Read More
A lot was said over the past year about the haves and have-nots, about the 1 percent and the rest of us, about the growing income gap in America. In Memphis, we've been told it's even worse; we live in the poorest big city in America. As the public defender for Shelby County, I see the results of this disparity firsthand. Every day in the criminal justice system, our office represents hundreds of people who are threatened with loss of liberty and cannot afford representation. In the civil courts, scores of attorneys assist the growing number of those who cannot hire a lawyer; many of these attorneys work without compensation. An estimated four-fifths of low-income Americans do not have access to a lawyer when they need one. Independent nonprofit legal aid programs like Memphis Area Legal Services (MALS) are working to bridge this gap. Created in the wake of Dr. King's death over 40 years ago, MALS exists to help those who cannot afford basic legal advice or advocacy. Read More
See 2011 Article Highlights
See 2010 Article Highlights
See 2009 Article Highlights
See 2008 Article Highlights