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VOL. 36 | NO. 28 | Friday, July 13, 2012

Modest Means Initiative needs influx of cash to continue work

By Linda Bryant

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Many legal experts in Middle Tennessee agree there’s not enough assistance available for those who don’t qualify for free services. Most in need work, but bring in a modest income.

Now, one of the few local programs addressing that particular need is in jeopardy.

The Modest Means Initiative, funded largely during its pilot stage by the Nashville Bar Association, needs a new sponsoring agency and/or funding of $10,000-$15,000 to continue, says Jonathan Coleman, the program’s founder.

Coleman, a Baker Donelson attorney, volunteers his time for the project. Money is needed for part-time administration help to coordinate meetings and referrals, he says.

“There’s been a huge uptick in requests for these kind of services,” Coleman explains. “I think everybody agrees it’s needed.”

MMI charges a fee of $25 for a referral for a meeting with an attorney. The lawyer’s fee is then $75 per hour, and a retainer is sometimes required.

Coleman studied similar programs nationwide before setting up MMI, the first program of its kind in Tennessee.

“It’s a good program and modeled after best practices in all the courts,” Coleman says.

Michael Shipman, an attorney with the Shipman and Crim law firm in Nashville, says he’s noticed an increase in need for services from the working poor since the recession.

“It can be pretty tough when you are working for $10 an hour,” he says.

Shipman recommends using a service like MMI or calling an attorney for an initial conversation.

“Regardless of the reputation lawyers have, a lot of us are trying to help,” he says. “A lot of attorneys are willing to provide advice. The economy has been tough on a lot of people, and we know that.”