Article by Tiffany M. Graves 1 2017–2018 CABA PresidentPosted 01/01/2017
I have reached the halfway mark of my term as CABA President. In addition to holding two successful membership meetings, a Fall Social and Bar Review, and a Flash CLE, the past few months have been full with planning for the winter and spring which are, arguably, CABA's busiest seasons. Our organization is incredibly fortunate to have an impressive roster of committee chairs who take the responsibilities of their respective committees very seriously and who are working very hard to develop programming that will provide our members with unique opportunities for professional development, community outreach, and networking. I am pleased with what we have accomplished so far this year and excited about everything that is to come.
Nestled within our busy roster of upcoming events are the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. We hosted our annual Christmas Party — a signature event for CABA — on December 5 at the Old Capitol Inn. In addition to giving us the space to socialize and formally usher in the Christmas season, the event also allowed us to give back to the local community through our participation in the Marine Corps' Toys for Tots program. Our Community Service and Pro Bono Projects Committee deposited bins for the toy drive at local firms and the Mississippi Bar Center. Far too many families in our area lack the resources to afford gifts for their children at Christmas. We are thankful to our members for donating toys in one of our bins or at the Christmas Party. We had representatives from the Marine Corps present at the party to pick up the toys we collected. As always, we had a good showing. My heart is warm with thoughts of the many local children whose Christmas holiday will be a little happier because of your generosity.
As many of you know, I am the Executive Director of the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission. In that role, I work with the state's nonprofit community and others to try to improve and expand Mississippi's civil legal services delivery system. It's no secret that Mississippi is the poorest state in the nation. Nearly 700,000 state residents qualify for legal aid. With less than 11,000 attorneys licensed to practice law here, even if every attorney did pro bono, we would still fall far short of being able to assist everyone who qualifies for free legal assistance. Add to that, Mississippi is down to only 34 full-time legal aid attorneys. The odds of reaching everyone who needs legal help are not great, but organizations like mine are determined to change that. My full-time work compels me to think of the needs of others less fortunate every day. However, as the holidays draw closer, I become even more aware of the struggles of Mississippi's less fortunate. They are not only struggling financially; they are facing issues that many of us would be extremely challenged to overcome.
I think it is vitally important that we, as lawyers, never forget how fortunate we are to be in this profession, living lives that are vastly different from those with limited means. I am proud of the projects CABA members have engaged in over the years to provide often critically-needed support to individuals and families who could not afford lawyers to help them resolve their legal issues. I am even more proud that we have scheduled several of those events this winter and spring.
The snowy weather conditions in Jackson forced us to cancel the "Immigration Options in Changing Times" CLE that was scheduled for December 8. Fortunately, we have rescheduled the event for December 21. It goes without saying that the immigration landscape is ever-evolving and many in the legal community want to become involved to help those who need support for themselves and their families. Attorneys who attend the CLE will learn how to screen clients for common forms of immigration relief, including immigration benefits available to survivors of domestic violence and other violent crimes, and individuals fleeing persecution in their home countries. My hope is that those who attend will be given the tools and information they need to assist Mississippi's immigrant community on a pro bono basis. We are sponsoring the CLE with the Young Lawyers Division of the Bar and Catholic Charities Migrant Support Center. We are deeply indebted to Amelia Steadman McGowan, Staff Attorney with Catholic Charities, who will lead the CLE and bring the need for this type pro bono service to our attention. Amelia is truly a star within our Bar. Her heart for service is contagious.
As we have done for the last several years, we will hold an Expungement Workshop and Legal Clinic in the spring. Our Community Service and Pro Bono Projects Committee will coordinate those events. We will also return to Stewpot Community Services to assist with serving lunch to the area's homeless men and women. Our community engagement will also reach our local schools with the Law-Related Education Committee's annual essay contest. I am pleased to report that the Committee is undertaking more extensive outreach to local schools this year to ensure participation is robust and inclusive. I am grateful to Christina Seanor, Cydney Archie and Alicia Netterville for their extremely capable leadership of this staple program for CABA.
CABA's rich history of service is one of the many things that has kept me involved in the organization for the past decade. While our activities offer ways for members to do pro bono and otherwise give back, I would be remiss in my role with the Access to Justice Commission if I did not mention our local legal nonprofits who could certainly use your support. Click the names below to find out more:
Thank you for your support of CABA. You, our members, represent the best our profession has to offer. I offer my best and most sincere wishes for a safe, restful and happy holiday season to all of you.