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The Next 50:

Paving the Way to the Future

Group Shot of the Legal Aid Society Team
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Message From

DarKenya W. Waller

Executive Director, Legal Aid Society

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Message From

Charles Grant

Board President, Legal Aid Society

Timeline of major events of past 50 years


Legal Services of Nashville, Inc. (LSON) was incorporated Feb. 9 by eight members of the Nashville Bar Association.


Legal Services of Nashville filed an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Education on behalf of low-income parents of schoolchildren in Nashville who should have been the beneficiaries of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. The complaint pointed out the funds that by law should have been spent on programs to address the needs of educationally disadvantaged students had been spent instead on projects and administrative needs of whole school systems, including the data processing division. In response to the complaint, a project review team visited the school district in January 1972 and substantiated the complaints of the Nashville parents.


Attorneys fought for major reforms of broken, abusive youth detention centers in Doe v. Henderson, resulting in the closure of several old state correctional facilities, the reduction of inmate populations and the opening of more modern facilities.


In Samuels v. Heckler, the largest class-action case in the firm's history, attorneys secured more than $500 million in retroactive Social Security benefits for roughly 70,000 disabled Tennesseans.


In Purtle v. Eldridge Auto Sales, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's finding that a car dealership violated the Truth In Lending Act and upheld the award of attorneys' fees. This Court of Appeals opinion has been cited in more than 50 other cases beyond the Sixth Circuit.


Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee, Rural Legal Services of Tennessee and Legal Services of South Central Tennessee consolidated, forming Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands (LASMTC), Tennessee's largest nonprofit law firm.


After Nashville experienced a devastating flood in 2010, LASMTC and the Nashville Pro Bono Program participated in multiple flood clinics, assisting over 300 attendees, and produced various resources touching on relevant legal topics for flood-affected individuals during the recovery and rebuilding process. More than 200 lawyers volunteered to work on cases generated from a free legal assistance hotline.


Legal Aid Society took a stand against Tullahoma law enforcement officials' refusal to enforce the law against unscrupulous landlords. LASMTC attorneys obtained restraining orders to prevent the landlords from continuing to harass their tenants and brought multiple lawsuits against them, resulting in noticeable improvements in landlord behavior and police response to housing disputes. Legal Aid was able to use the same principles and stand up for tenants across the Middle Tennessee area.


TN Senior Law Alliance (TSLA) was created from a cy pres award intended to provide over $36 million in assistance to seniors in the areas of transportation, dental, housing and legal services. The $5.5 million allocation for legal services created a first-of-its-kind partnership among the four Legal Services Corporation-funded organizations and the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services to offer the same free legal services to seniors across all 95 TN counties, helping 6,337 seniors across the state to date.

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Requests for assistance



Staff presentations to the public, including potential clients



Cases opened during the year



People attended Legal Information or Legal Education presentations



Hours worked by employees on cases and supporting activities



Taxpayers assisted through the Tennessee Taxpayer Project





Worth of confirmed financial benefits gained for taxpayers through the Tennessee Taxpayer Project

Circle graph of legal issues addressed in 2019
  • Family (includes juvenile and education)
  • Housing
  • Consumer
  • Income Maintenance
  • Health
  • Miscellaneous
  • Employment (includes taxes)
  • Individual Rights

Client Stories

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Denise Williams

Denise was in an abusive relationship with a man who was addicted to medicines that she was taking for her cancer treatment. This man was also abusive to Denise's grown daughter Kayla when she tried to stand up to him.

Denise sought help through Legal Aid Society, and attorney Amelia Luna with the Family Law practice group was able to get an Order of Protection established to keep Denise and Kayla protected. Legal Aid Society also assisted Denise through the divorce process that ensured her safety and independence.

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Ben Berry

Ben, born with a genetic brain disorder, brain malformation and spinal abnormalities, had been raised since birth by his grandparents, who are now both in their 70s. Ben's disability made him eligible for TennCare benefits upon turning 18, but his grandmother was unsuccessful in her efforts to reach TennCare and fix the error.

Ben's grandmother called Legal Aid Society and was assisted by attorney Shelby Dodson with the Health, Income and Education practice group, who helped her navigate the state's complicated and confusing system.

Practice Groups

Employment Practice Group

When employees face challenges in receiving their rights in the workplace, we’re there to provide the legal support they need.

— Bill Bush, lead employment attorney

Consumer Protection Practice Group

We’re often the last line of defense for consumers who have been taken advantage of by unscrupulous businesses. The cases we win can have far-reaching effects that impact the lives of countless people across the state.

— Marla Williams, lead consumer protection attorney

Tax Practice Group

For individuals or families living on low incomes, a single financial setback can be devastating. It’s very meaningful for us to help our clients work past these hurdles and get back on their feet.

— Mary Gillum, director, Tennessee Taxpayer Project

Housing and Home Retention Practice Groups

Stable housing allows families to turn their attention to other priorities, like finding a good job or educating children. Yet, homelessness is rampant and affordable housing is scarce. That’s why the housing work at Legal Aid Society is of paramount importance.

— Zachary Oswald, lead housing attorney and Gallatin managing attorney

Family Law and Domestic Violence Practice Group

The work we do is important because we are providing safety to clients and their children, who often have nowhere else to go to get help out of an abusive relationship.

— Amelia Luna, lead family law attorney

Health, Income and Education Practice Group

We help people who cannot afford a private lawyer get healthcare, food and a stable income.

— Russ Overby, lead health, income and education attorney

Major Projects

Survivors Immigration Legal Project

Seeing clients progress from a vulnerable stage of their lives to become independent, productive members of society, it reaffirms to me why our services are needed. We help provide the stepping stones to stability and independence.

— Chay Sengkhounmany, lead immigration attorney

Gilbert Family Fellows

When children are able to grow up in a stable home, they have more opportunities open to them. If we want to create positive change in the future, we must focus on meeting the needs of our children.

— Patricia Jones, lead mortgage foreclosure attorney and Columbia managing attorney

Gilbert Re-Entry Fellows

Barriers in our legal system make it extremely difficult for former offenders to put their past behind and become productive members of society. It’s extremely rewarding to help them overcome these obstacles and enter a new phase of life.

— Deven Wilson, re-entry staff attorney

Volunteer Lawyers Program

Legal Aid Society’s reach and effectiveness are magnified by the work of our pro bono lawyers, who serve their clients with generosity and dedication.

— Andrae Crismon, director, Volunteer Lawyers Program

Volunteer Spotlight

Jeff Gibson and Margaret Dodson

Jeff Gibson and Margaret Dodson of Bass, Berry and Sims were named our Pro Bono Attorneys of the Year in 2019.

Gibson and Dodson co-counseled with Legal Aid Society and the Tennessee Justice Center on an American with Disabilities Act case in federal court. They represented a young man with quadriplegic cerebral palsy, seizure disorder and developmental and intellectual delays who requires constant supervision. His TennCare benefits were at risk of being cut when he turned 21 years old, and his mother was faced with an impossible decision: to place her son in a full-time care facility or keep him at home with reduced nursing hours, endangering his safety.

The legal team filed a federal lawsuit, claiming that TennCare’s policies as applied to their client violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The team was successful in securing a stay of the lawsuit, and the client underwent a trial period in a group-home setting.

In addition to their exceptional lawyering, Gibson and Dodson provided generous mentorship, guidance and support for young attorneys at Legal Aid Society. Their dedication of time and willingness to step up and fight for this young man’s legal rights was truly remarkable and greatly appreciated.

The 2019 Campaign for Equal Justice:

Generosity Funds Life-Changing Legal Services

We’re immensely appreciative of the tireless efforts of our 2019 Campaign for Equal Justice committee members, who engaged our donors to achieve a record-setting campaign total of $832,435. Campaign Chair Erin Palmer Polly led a dedicated group that also included:

Larry Papel

Community Chair

Martesha Johnson

Government Chair

Lela Hollabaugh

Large Firm Co-chair

Judge Joe Binkley and Chancellor Anne Martin

Judge Co-chairs
Legal Aid Society's Budget
Bar graph of Legal Aid Society's budget