UT Legal Clinic Honored for Extraordinary Community Service

This fall, the Legal Clinic at the University of Tennessee College of Law was recognized by both the Knoxville Branch of the NAACP and Legal Aid of East Tennessee for its extraordinary community service and legal representation of clients who cannot afford an attorney.

Recognized for Social Advocacy Work

On Saturday, November 18, the Knoxville Branch of the NAACP awarded the Legal Clinic the Social Advocacy Award during its annual gala at the Change Center in Knoxville. The award recognized the Legal Clinic for its exceptional service to the community. The Legal Clinic was praised for its range of legal services, from representing individuals and organizations to hosting workshops for small-business owners, organizing expungement community courts, and presenting know-your-rights sessions about wills and conservatorships.

In congratulating the Legal Clinic for its achievements, Cynthia Finch, Chairman of the 2023 NAACP Award Gala, stated, “During the state NAACP Convention in Memphis, the Legal Clinic’s name was recognized and called out many times for their work. The Knoxville Branch of the NAACP knows we have chosen the right honoree.” 

Legal Clinic Director Joy Radice and former clinic student Tomi Robb (UT Law ’21) accepted the award on behalf of the Legal Clinic. 

In receiving the award, Radice explained, “It takes a village. It takes collaboration with organizations like NAACP, and it takes professors and students to do the tremendous work we accomplish every single day.”  She asked Professors Eric Amarante, Wendy Bach, Brian Krumm, and student Bianca McNeary (UT Law ’24) to stand and be recognized.

Robb, who participated in three clinic courses, described the impact of taking a clinic on her legal career. “In my time in the Legal Clinic, I had an opportunity to do what I wanted to do all my life. I watched people come in and out of prison, and on the way out I asked, where is all the support for their reintegration. Then in law school, I learned how to do reentry work and how to contribute to a space that I had always wanted to since I was a young girl. It was an incredible opportunity, and I was so grateful to be able to serve those who needed us. I continue to do expungement and reentry work today as a legal aid attorney.”

Clinic Named Pro Bono Firm of the Year

Legal Aid of East Tennessee named the Legal Clinic as Pro Bono Firm of the Year, alongside the Expungement Pro Bono Project of Lincoln Memorial University’s Duncan School of Law (“LMU Law”). 

The Pro Bono Law Firm of the Year is awarded each year to a law firm from Knox, Blount, Loudon, or Sevier counties that has undertaken significant efforts in support of Legal Aid of East Tennessee.

The 2023 award recognized the two law schools for their collaboration and partnership with the Knoxville Area Urban League and Grow Partnership Tennessee to address the critical gap in expungement legal services in Knox County.

In presenting the award, Knoxville Bar Association President Loretta Cravens said, “The two law schools have created dynamic and responsive models for serving Knox County residents to analyze their criminal records, request court cost waivers, and petition for dismissal and conviction expungement.”

Since 2014, the Legal Clinic has been organizing community expungement events in East Tennessee. The demand for expungement assistance from people with criminal records to help reinstate driver’s licenses or improve job opportunities consistently exceeded the capacity of the clinic. Collaborating with the Expungement Pro Bono Project at LMU Law serves as a vehicle for training more law students and helping more clients.

Legal Clinic graduate Maha Ayesh (UT Law ’06) launched the expungement project at LMU Law, where she serves as the Director of Experiential Learning and Assistant Professor of Law. “Professor Joy Radice trained me and my students in expungement law, provided us with sample petitions and motions, and helps me trouble-shoot complex cases. Her assistance has been essential to building the project so quickly, and by working together, we have been able to provide even more assistance to people in the community,” explained Ayesh.

To continue the program over the summer months, the Legal Clinic partnered with the Knoxville Bar Association and Legal Aid of East Tennessee to create the Second Chance Initiative in the Spring of 2023 to recruit pro bono attorneys to help. Radice provided training in expungement law to local attorneys who committed to staff a summer clinic and provide free legal services to expungement clients. In just one year, more than 200 people were served. Caitlin Torney, Director of Pro Bono for Legal Aid of East Tennessee Bono, who worked closely with the project, said, “These clinic models have been featured in TBA Today and have served as a pattern for other schools and local organizations to replicate across the state.”