Click above to listen to Episode 6 of "The Witness," our podcast of firsthand stories from attorneys and advocates who are on the front lines of fighting for people living in poverty. Our first few episodes were recorded at the 40th anniversary conference of the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS). TALS serves as a statewide coordinator for civil justice issues in Tennessee. The sixth episode of The Witness features conversations about the future of legal aid as a movement.
Interview 1: Ann Pruitt and Stewart Clifton
Ann Pruitt is the executive director of TALS. Stewart Clifton is an attorney and government relations specialist for Tennessee nonprofits, including TALS. He is a former executive director of TALS and former staff attorney of the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee.
To me the great stunning thing ... is the quality of legal aid work going on through LSC-funded programs and other legal aid programs is as high as it's ever been with people as committed as they've ever been. So I didn't know if I'd be saying that because I thought I was part of the golden age -- and I was -- but it's something to remember that people who are new to the profession, new to this part of the profession, come to it for the same reasons we did -- a desire to do the right thing, a desire to make a difference, a commitment to a more just society, and a willingness to invest their time and energy and their emotions in what they do.
Interview 2: Russ Overby and Chris Coleman
Russ Overby is the lead attorney of the Health, Income, and Education Practice Group at the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands. Chris Coleman is a staff attorney at the Tennessee Justice Center, a member of the Legal Impact Network. He is the author of Ongoing Barriers to Coverage Under the Affordable Care Act, 48 Clearinghouse Review 132 (Sept.-Oct. 2014).
I went to college in the late '60s, which is when legal aid just began to get federal funding through the Office of Economic Opportunity. And while I was in college there were literally two TV shows about legal aid lawyers, and so it was in the news. And Jim Weill, who's now the head of [the Food Research & Action Center], said to me one time, 'I really thought we were going to end poverty,' and I think there was a belief by a lot of us that we were going to do that.
Interview 3: Kathryn Ellis and David Yoder
Kathryn Ellis is the Pro Bono Director at Legal Aid of East Tennessee. David Yoder is the retired executive director of Legal Aid of East Tennessee. Before coming to Tennessee in 1993, he was the executive director of Legal Services of Northwest Indiana in Gary, Indiana.
Everybody who works [in the Knoxville office of Legal Aid of East Tennessee] is working there because they made the choice to be there. I really don't think that at least in LAET that we have people who are there because it's a stepping stone or because they fell into it, they couldn't find anything else. I think everybody who is there is there because they want to be there to make the difference.
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Ann Pruitt & Stewart Clifton, Russ Overby & Chris Coleman, Kathryn Ellis & David Yoder