published Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

Legal Aid of East Tennessee offers free continuing education for pro bono lawyers

Russell Fowler, standing right, associate director of Legal Aid of East Tennessee, talks to local attorneys to promote pro bono work at an afternoon law seminar held at the Chattanooga Choo Choo. Fowler used law involving Elvis Presley to illustrate the need for their services.
Russell Fowler, standing right, associate director of Legal Aid of East Tennessee, talks to local attorneys to promote pro bono work at an afternoon law seminar held at the Chattanooga Choo Choo. Fowler used law involving Elvis Presley to illustrate the need for their services.
Photo by Tim Barber.
  • photo
    Russell Fowler is associate director of Legal Aid of East Tennessee.
    Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Lawyers used a vampire, two comedians, a legendary lover and a mobster to discuss years of court battles related to the estate of Elvis Presley.

Russell Fowler used these examples to keep local lawyers' attention during a law class Tuesday at the Chattanooga Choo Choo.

Fowler created the three-hour legal seminar on case law related to Elvis as part of Legal Aid of East Tennessee's free continuing legal education for lawyers who do pro bono work for the organization.

"Most continuing legal education courses are pretty dry," Fowler said. "We thought, 'What subject can we look at that is entertaining yet informative that covers a lot of areas of law?' And nothing attracts like Elvis."

Flanked by a guitar-wielding cardboard cutout Presley and a framed black-and-white portrait of the King of Rock 'n' Roll and sporting a tie covered in his images, Fowler traced the paths of multiple cases that threaded through the courts starting within months of Presley's death in 1977.

Fowler said Tennessee's ultimate ruling that rights to publicity established the empire of the Elvis estate, which generates $50 million in revenue annually and double or triple that amount in Elvis event anniversary years.

Lawyers used case law from families of Al Capone, Rudolph Valentino, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy and Bela Lugosi to either support or refute claims by Presley's heirs to protect his fame and any related use of the "King."

Lawyers are required to get 15 hours of continuing legal education credit each year, which can costs hundreds of dollars, Fowler said.

Charlie McDaniel directs the pro bono project for Legal Aid of East Tennessee. He took a few minutes in the middle of the class to continue the pitch for more attorneys to offer free services to the low-income clients that the organization serves.

"When you step in on a pro bono case you're stepping in on probably one of the most difficult times in [clients'] lives," McDaniel said.

Local real property and estate attorney Janice Pulver has worked with estate concerns but nothing as high-publicity as Elvis.

"I guess what has surprised me is that these cases have extended," she said. "You would have thought it would have been settled long before that."

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about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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