Students, faculty, alumni working to respond to COVID-19 crisis

Those who are struggling as a result of the coronavirus, COVID-19, may be able to find assistance through the University of Tennessee Legal Clinic and resources created by College of Law alumni.

While students, staff and faculty are away from the College of Law building, work is still underway to facilitate opportunities for students to work with lawyers, advocates and clients to respond to the crisis.

Legal Clinic professors are assigning students pro bono work through the TN FreeLegalAnswers online platform and working closely with the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services, the agency that hosts it. It’s a partnership that began more than three years ago to benefit individuals who face a variety of legal issues and can’t afford legal advice.

Site administrator and College of Law alumna Kirsten Jacobsen has fielded a number of questions that have been asked repeatedly by TN FreeLegalAnswers site users.

“Clinic students are now going to select questions, research them, and produce information for a blog to help Tennesseans across the state,” College of Law Legal Clinic Director and Professor Joy Radice said.

FreeLegalAnswers, developed in Tennessee by College of Law alumnus Buck Lewis, has been adopted by the American Bar Association and is available to users throughout the country.

“Now is the perfect time to use FreeLegalAnswers to respond to the exploding legal needs related to unemployment, health care, and landlord-tenant issues,” Lewis said.

Other students in the College of Law Legal Clinic are laying groundwork to assist those who may lose their jobs or their homes as a result of the pandemic.

Professor Wendy Bach’s students, along with the University of Memphis legal clinic, are surveying how the current statewide suspension of evictions will be lifted and how tenants will be impacted across the state. Students are working to create solutions that will protect vulnerable populations affected by unemployment and housing issues.

Clinic students under the guidance of professors Sherley Cruz and Eric Amarante are preparing documents and providing counsel to assist employers and their employees whose businesses and jobs are in jeopardy.

“The legislation passed by Congress this week has the potential to dramatically assist low-income workers get through this crisis,” Cruz said. “But we must translate the new law in ways that people can understand.”

Beyond these projects, the Legal Clinic is working with the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission, attorneys, judges, bar presidents, and more than 20 leaders of non-profit organizations to plan a virtual format for the annual Help4TN Day in April to assist residents with their unmet legal needs.