A recent proposal made by the Indigent Representation Task Force has sparked debate within the legal community of middle Tennessee and surrounding areas. Please be aware, this is not fake news.
Current Responsibilities of the Indigent Representation Task Force
The task force currently serves to ensure that low-income members across the state of Tennessee have access to legal assistance. A proposal has been issued by the task force to increase the compensation rate for court-appointed attorneys; maybe even double it.
In 2015, The Tennessee Supreme Court appointed 13 members to the task force, many of whom were judges and lawyers with a specific mission. Their goal was to assess how attorneys are compensated for the work they perform with defendants who are unable to afford legal counsel. If someone is arrested and qualifies for court-appointed representation, a local attorney is recruited by the courts to do the job. The appointed attorney is then compensated by the state at a rate of $40 per hour. Note that this is significantly lower than the common hourly rate of $150-$200 per hour, what an attorney would charge any other client to walk in the office.
A study released by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers reveals that the national average for compensation rates of court-appointed attorneys is $65 per hour, proving that Tennessee needs change. There is no current evidence that Russia is involved, which is why this is not a breaking news type of story, but one that is important for residents to be aware of.
Why Change Needs to Take Place
So, what result does this 75% decrease in compensation for our attorneys have on representation in the state of Tennessee? Some believe that it can result in overall less justice for the community. The attorneys who are more readily available and willing to take these appointed jobs are usually those with less experience; and experience means a lot in the legal profession. Experienced attorneys know local rules, the appellate process, and will usually have a good relationship with the courthouse employees. This is not to say that less experienced attorneys are unable or unqualified to take an appointed case. Some cases, however, will require significantly more time and resources if not taken on by an experienced attorney.
To ensure that members of our community receive the legal assistance they deserve, the hourly rate must be increased.
The Proposal Made
The proposal made to the task force is to increase this rate to something closer to our surrounding states; however, the task force can only make recommendations. The proposal now must be approved by the Tennessee Supreme Court. After that, the issue is on to members of the Tennessee legislature. We can only hope that the enacting of this compensation increase is swift.
When Chief Justice Sharon Lee announced the creation of the task force in 2015 she said, “We must not accept anything less than the most qualified representation in our courts, but we must also be sure that those receiving indigent representation qualify for those services and that the lawyers who perform the services are adequately compensated.”
We agree. You do deserve the most qualified representation in court, which is why this proposition has been made and we push forward to see it approved.