Work That Makes a Difference – Kirsten Jacobson (’16)

Kirsten Jacobson (’16) is led to advocacy law because of her concern for her community.

In this installment of our series of interviews featuring alumni who work in public interest law, Jacobson – a staff attorney with the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services in Nashville – reveals how she looks for opportunities to problem-solve in unique ways.

Describe the work you do and what a day on the job might involve.

The Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services works to strengthen the delivery of civil legal help in Tennessee. My role involves leveraging new technology to help Tennesseans access the civil legal resources available across the state. We operate a statewide civil legal helpline and provide limited scope legal advice and referrals on civil legal matters.

As a companion to the helpline, TALS provides which contains links to legal information booklets, self-help videos, court approved forms, and resources. I am working with the Administrative Office of the Courts to install kiosks in courts throughout the state, so that there are resources and information available where people need legal information. We are also about to launch the first-ever civil legal help chatbot which will offer legal information and forms through 

To support these efforts, I have created a case management and automated workflow process, which saves our team multiple days of data entry each month. I created and train people how to use the Legal Wellness Checkup, which identifies potential legal issues and provides users with links to resources they may find helpful. I am also the state administrator for TN Free Legal Answers, our online legal advice clinic. This role involves monitoring the questions posted to the site, recruiting and training new volunteers, and working with volunteers to organize groups of attorneys to answer questions. I work frequently with law students to organize these “clinics” – including about three per semester at UT Law.  

Why have you made advocacy such an important part of your legal career?

I think it is important to be invested in your community, and my work allows me to do that every day. Working on our helpline and on TN Free Legal Answers allows me to provide legal advice to people that may not otherwise be able to get help. Working on new projects like the Legal Wellness Checkup and the HELP4TN chatbot gives me the opportunity to be creative and problem-solve in new ways.

What are some of the rewards that come with this work?

One reward is the impact that access to justice work in Tennessee has on our communities, and being able to be part of that work. It is so impressive to see the data that comes from our work. Our helpline has served over 20,000 Tennesseans and TN Free Legal Answers has served over 15,000 Tennesseans. It is also impressive to me how Tennessee is viewed as a leader in innovative access to justice work. There are lawyers in all different types of practice settings working together to help make legal help more accessible, and I really appreciate the opportunity to be a part of and learn from this community. 

If you could talk to law students who are considering a similar career path, what would you tell them about your work in advocacy and what advice would you give them?

I think it is important to be connected to your community, and be ready to think creatively and problem solve. When I started at TALS, I had an Equal Justice Works fellowship which was a great way to launch my career. That opportunity allowed me to create my own project and helped design my role at TALS.

This is the fifth in a series of interviews originally published in the May 2019 issue of Tennessee Law.