Knoxville Barristers Exemplify the “Volunteer” Spirit
By W. Michael Baisley
W. Michael Baisley is President of the Knoxville Barristers and an Associate at Woolf, McClane, Bright, Allen & Carpenter, PLLC in Knoxville, Tennessee, where he practices in the areas of business law, mergers & acquisitions, real estate, construction law, and commercial litigation.
It is only fitting that the home of the University of Tennessee “Volunteers” is also home to the Knoxville Barristers, the Young Lawyers Division of the Knoxville Bar Association (KBA). This year, the members of the Barristers will spend, literally, hundreds of hours volunteering, in an effort to positively influence the future of the legal profession and also to promote collegiality, professionalism, and camaraderie among local bar members.
Through their commitment to organizing and sponsoring various public service initiatives, including a number of programs to aid indigent citizens as well as social gatherings and networking events involving the greater KBA and the students and faculty of the nearby University of Tennessee College of Law, the Barristers have definitely made an impact. The KBA is widely regarded as one of the most active and vibrant bar organizations in the region; as a result, Knoxville has developed a reputation for being a wonderful place to practice law, especially for young lawyers.
The Barristers’ Mission: Advocate, Educate, and Serve
The Barristers’ mission is threefold: to advocate, educate, and serve. Its membership consists of over 350 young lawyers who meet the basic eligibility requirements: (1) the member must also be an active member of the greater KBA and (2) the member must be thirty-six years of age or younger or must have been practicing law for five years or less.
The Barristers holds a monthly membership meeting at “The Bistro,” a downtown bar and restaurant, where members congregate to socialize, network, and take care of the Barristers’ monthly business. Members are encouraged to serve on one or more committees, each of which is responsible for planning and executing the various projects and events that the Barristers sponsor throughout the year.
It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as president of the Barristers this year. I have learned a great deal from my colleagues about the importance of embracing the “volunteer spirit” and putting that spirit into action through service to the bar and our community. I have also enjoyed the opportunity to associate with (and learn from) several attorneys who recently “aged out” of the Barristers, but who have worked hard over the years to build the Barristers into the successful organization it is today.
Projects and Activities
I share the following information not only for the purpose of bragging on our members (which they deserve), but with the hope that other young lawyers’ organizations will be inspired by the “volunteer spirit” Barristers members have embraced and epitomized over the years. You also may find some ideas your organization can use to build its own membership and roster of projects and activities. Here is a sample of some of the projects and events on the Barristers’ agenda for 2009.
Hunger & Poverty Relief Initiatives
Among other things, the Barristers Hunger & Poverty Relief Committee and Volunteer Breakfast Committee sponsor and organize the following initiatives:
• delivering hot meals two-to-three days per week, as well as special holiday food baskets, to elderly and home-bound individuals through the local “Mobile Meals”;
• serving breakfast to homeless individuals once per month, at 6:00 a.m., at a local shelter through the “Volunteer Breakfast” project;
• collecting food supplies for the impoverished and homeless to benefit the local “Second Harvest Food Bank”;
• sponsoring a professional clothing drive to collect suits, dresses, and business clothing for recovering alcoholics and drug users to benefit the Knox Area Rescue Ministries;
• collecting school supplies to benefit ChildHelp USA; and
• collecting winter coats to benefit Coats for the Cold.
High School Mock Trial Competition
In cooperation with the Young Lawyers Division of the Tennessee Bar Association, the Barristers’ High School Mock Trial Committee is responsible for planning and conducting the annual Knox County High School Mock Trial Competition, which takes place on two consecutive Saturdays each February. Local high school students gather at the Knox County Courthouse to compete in a realistic and pressure-packed mock trial competition. Each team competes in at least four separate trials, and the winning team advances to the state championship in Nashville, where it competes against champions from other YLD districts across the state. Dozens of local attorneys from the KBA volunteer each year to serve as coaches, judges, scorers, and bailiffs, and every year some of these veteran attorneys leave the competition shaking their heads, saying, “Wow! I would hate to go up against some of these kids in a real trial!!”
Membership and Networking Events
The Membership Committee and Law School Mentor Committee jointly serve as the Barristers’ liaison to new attorneys and law students at the University of Tennessee College of Law. The Membership Committee hosts several networking events throughout the year, including a summertime food and cocktail reception for summer law clerks, and another reception in mid-November to congratulate and welcome newly admitted attorneys to the KBA following their swearing-in ceremony before the Tennessee Supreme Court. The Law School Mentor Committee hosts several events at the College of Law, including the KBA’s annual Minority Law Student Reception. The Law School Mentor Committee also coordinates a “mock interview” program each year, during which dozens of local attorneys volunteer to conduct mock interviews for 1Ls and 2Ls to help them hone their interviewing skills. The committee also organizes several panel discussions and brown-bag luncheons at the College of Law, at which panel participants and students discuss topics such as “What to Expect as a First Year Associate,” “What Does It Mean to Be a Lawyer?,” “Finding Work-Life Balance in the Law,” and “How to Compete for Judicial Clerkships.”
Athletic Events
The Athletics Committee hosts the annual KBA golf tournament, which has proven to be extremely popular and continues to grow every year. Last year, over forty teams competed in the four-person “scramble” format tournament. Recently, the Athletics Committee organized an informal basketball league during which Barristers and KBA members gather at the Downtown Knoxville YWCA to network and get some exercise. This year, the committee also organized a team that walked a 5K, in the pouring rain, to benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Law Day and Law Week
Law Day is an annual celebration of our legal system, which the Barristers’ Law Week Committee uses as an opportunity to reach out to the Knoxville community. During Law Week dozens of attorney volunteers are dispatched to local elementary schools, where they teach second and third graders about the legal system, including an interactive video presentation of a civil jury trial in the matter of The Big Bad Wolf v. The Three Little Pigs. The committee also solicits nominations for the “Law and Liberty Award,” which is the highest and most prestigious award given by the KBA each year. The award is presented at the annual Law Day luncheon to a local lawyer who, in the opinion of the Barristers membership, has dedicated his or her life to the pursuit of liberty and the improvement of the legal system through his or her professionalism and dedication to the bar and the community.
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I hope that you and your organization also embrace the “volunteer spirit” that I am so fortunate to witness on a daily basis among the membership of the Knoxville Barristers. In addition to making your law practice more fulfilling, you will find that your organization, your local bar, your community, and our profession will be better off for it.