The halls might be decked with boughs of holly, the stockings might be hung from the chimney with care and chestnuts might be roasting on an open fire, but holiday prep is not complete until Legal Aid of East Tennessee decorates its annual Pro Bono Christmas Tree.
Standing tall and green in the lobby of the Hamilton County Courthouse, the 2022 Pro Bono Christmas Tree offers an opportunity for local attorneys to take on a vital civil case for someone who cannot afford to pay for legal services.
In a show of support for access to justice, a group of five Hamilton County judges and chancellors placed cases on the branches of the tree.
“Our courts are open to everyone and economic status should not give one person an advantage over another,” said Judge Marie Williams. “There are times when people can’t come up with the money they need to be represented and lawyers have a moral and an ethical responsibility to assist them without compensation when they can.”
All attorneys are welcome to visit the courthouse and select a case, says Mary Frances DeVoe, Pro Bono Project attorney and staff attorney at Legal Aid.
“Young lawyers who want to get in front of a judge could take one of our uncontested conservatorships or adoptions,” she suggests. “We have a lot of those on the tree.”
The cases, which are printed on the inside of handmade holiday cards, cover a range of legal issues. One card notes “Mrs. Claus” needs help obtaining an uncontested conservatorship for her 18-year-old autistic daughter, who turned 18 in May.
Another contains a plea from “Holly,” who says a sibling refuses to provide her with a copy of their late parents’ will.
A third card offers the details of a contract dispute in which one party is withholding money from another.
The cards also contain contact information for claiming a case.
After the judges and chancellors had finished decorating the tree, Chancellor Jeffrey Atherton read a poem he composed in honor of the first Pro Bono Christmas Tree in 2011. Titled “Judicial promotion for the Legal Aid of East Tennessee Pro Bono Christmas Tree,” its final stanzas contain a friendly suggestion to visit the courthouse and select a case:
In this holiday season,
Help some people in need,
With good legal advice.
It’s part of your creed!
No threats do we make.
But happy we’ll be,
When a card you do take!
Attorneys who are unable to visit the courthouse in December may contact DeVoe at email@example.com or 423 402-4767 to discuss volunteering.