The Mississippi Access to Justice Commission and the Mississippi Bar have been honored by the American Bar Association for their efforts to provide free civil legal assistance to poor people.

The Access to Justice Com- mission and the Mississippi Bar received the E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award for their efforts to provide free family law clinics statewide. The award includes a $3,500 prize that will be used to improve access to the courts by the poor.

Presentation of the Gambrell Professionalism Award is the second time the ABA has recognized the efforts in Mississippi to expand civil legal services to people living in poverty. The ABA presented the Mississippi Bar with the 2019 Harrison Tweed Award for its role in expanding the free legal clinics statewide.

The award recognizes efforts to improve civil legal services to people living in poverty. At the urging of former Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr., there were free family law clinics in every chancery court district in the state in 2018 and again in 2019.

Free legal clinics were offered for poor people who could not afford to hire a lawyer. Local lawyers volunteered their time to help with issues, including uncontested divorce, child custody, guardianships, adoptions, legal name change and emancipation. Some also assisted with expungements, opening the way for people to seek better employment opportunities.

Mike Randolph, Chief Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court, said, “It is my sincere hope that we can continue to expand voluntary, free legal assistance to our citizens.I’ve attended multiple clinics and have spoken to and encouraged the recipients, as well as the courts, clerks, staffs, and attorneys who sacrifice their time and skills to benefit others. There is nothing like witnessing the joy of families when adoption orders are signed.”

Former Arkansas Bar Association President Brian Rosenthal nominated the Access to Justice Commission and the Mississippi Bar for the Gambrell Professionalism Award. Rosenthal said in the nomination, “The Mississippi model of leadership from the top judicial officer and the bar at all levels can serve as a model for all states.”

“Sometimes you see where dentists gather to assist those who cannot afford services and serve hundreds of people in a day or two. Even though the Mississippi program cannot address all issues like a single dentist visit might be able to do, it can relieve the pain of uncertainty on how and whether to proceed and marshal resources available for assistance,” Rosenthal wrote in the nomination.

The Gambrell Professional- ism Awards, administered by the ABA Standing Commit- tee on Professionalism and supported by the E. Smythe Gambrell Fund for Professionalism, recognize the nation’s exemplary, innovative, and ongoing professionalism programs in law schools, bar associations, courts and other legal organizations that help ensure the maintenance of the highest principles of integrity and dedication to the legal profession and the public.

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