Legal Aid of Arkansas Receives ABA Legal Access Job Corps Catalyst Grant

Legal Aid of Arkansas is one of seven recipients nationally to receive a catalyst grant from the American Bar Association’s Legal Access Job Corps initiative, according to a release issued by the ABA earlier this month. A total of 96 applicants submitted grant proposals to the program, which was created by ABA President James Silkenat “to help nurture innovative programs that bridge the unmet legal needs of our society and the unmet employment needs of our young lawyers.”

The catalyst grant will provide $15,000 to LAA for the creation of two one-year fellowships for recent Arkansas law school graduates. LAA will match the funds dollar-for-dollar and provide supervision, mentoring, support, and assistance as they become established in the practice of law. Fellows must demonstrate a desire to establish law practices in rural and underserved areas of Arkansas and show a commitment to serving the legal needs of poor and moderate-income persons. Among the fellows’ responsibilities will be helping establish a “low bono” or “modest means” pro bono panel to provide services to Arkansans who do not qualify for legal aid, but who do not have the means to hire a private attorney.

“Arkansas has some of the most impoverished communities in the country,” said LAA Executive Director Lee Richardson. “This program will ultimately give us the opportunity to build a self-sustaining legal service delivery model to assist Arkansans who live in poor, sparsely populated areas of the state.”

Friday Firm’s Harry Light Honored for Commitment to Access to Justice

Friday, Eldredge & Clark partner Harry Light has received the Arkansas Bar Foundation’s 2014 Equal Justice Distinguished Service Award. The award, which was presented at a June 11 awards banquet in Hot Springs, is given annually to recognize dedication to and participation in the equal justice program for the poor, including pro bono efforts through legal services programs.

Light, who practices in the areas of bankruptcy, creditors’ rights, commercial litigation, and trademark/copyright applications, has also served as the mayor of Cammack Village, Arkansas, since 1995.

Light has demonstrated an ardent commitment to improving access to justice in Arkansas through his pro bono service in the Arkansas Delta. In 2013 alone, Light donated more than 64 hours of his time to the medical-legal partnership in Clarendon, Arkansas, at Mid-Delta Health Systems. On the third Tuesday of every month, he interviews clients, provides advice, and takes cases.

“I am humbled each time I visit with legal aid clients in the Delta and am fortified by the strength and courage they exhibit in meeting life’s basic challenges with limited means,” Light said. “To be able to assist them in some small way is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding privileges of being an Arkansas lawyer.”

Light has been a member of the Volunteer Organization for the Center for Arkansas Legal Services (VOCALS) since 1990. He is also a member of Legal Aid of Arkansas’s Equal Access to Justice Panel (EAJP).

Light puts precedence on making personal connections through his pro bono work. In 2012, he handled a case involving a guardianship for two newborn twins. A twin himself, Light was eager to assist the babies’ grandmother in filing a petition. Over the Thanksgiving holiday that year, Light stopped by the Clarendon grocery store to pick up a gift certificate for his client, who was caring for two other grandchildren in addition to the twins. After visiting the family, he remarked to a colleague, “I never knew pro bono work could be so emotional.”

In addition to his pro bono work, Light volunteers for the Central Arkansas Rescue Effort for Animals (CARE), which he founded in 1998. He also serves on the boards of Metroplan and the Arkansas Better Business Bureau. Light has served on the Arkansas Bar Association’s House of Delegates and Board of Governors, and in 2009, he received the Association’s Golden Gavel Award for his work as the Chair of the 2009 Annual Meeting.

Arkansas Access to Justice Commission members Representative John Vines and D’lorah Hughes, as well as Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation board member Frank Sewall, were also recognized at the June 11 ceremony for their contributions to the legal profession.

Vines was awarded the Arkansas Bar Association Presidential Award. The award honors an individual who works to advance the administration of justice and promotes the principles of integrity, learning, and public service. Hughes received the Special Award of Merit for her substantial contributions to the education of future Arkansas lawyers through her work in the Juvenile Law Clinic at the University of Arkansas School of Law.

Sewall received the Arkansas Bar Foundation’s C.E. Ransick Award of Excellence. This award is presented to an attorney each year whom the Arkansas Bar Association recognizes for setting the bar of excellence and for demonstrating exemplary practice in and out of the courtroom.

Arkansas Access to Justice Commission Awarded ABA Innovation Grant

The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission has received a grant from the American Bar Association’s Access to Justice Commission Expansion Project to promote and support innovation in the delivery of civil legal aid, the ABA announced last month. The grant was awarded for the development of a pro se document assembly form for an Arkansas Uncontested Divorce with Children packet utilizing HotDocs and A2J Author software, as well as the completion of a series of pilot clinics where attorneys will provide limited scope representation to pro se litigants in preparing uncontested divorce filings using the document assembly form.

The goal of the project is to increase awareness of and support for the concept of limited scope representation–a concept that is permitted under the Arkansas Rules of Professional Conduct, and which the American Bar Association has formally endorsed.  Although the concept itself is not new, few Arkansas attorneys are aware of the opportunities that this model presents.

“We believe that this will be a ‘win-win’ proposition for Arkansas: attorneys will be able to tap into a previously unprofitable market to generate revenue, and Arkansans who would otherwise be unable or unwilling to hire an attorney will now have that option,” said Amy Johnson, Executive Director of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission.

The ABA Access to Justice Commission Expansion Project is funded by the Public Welfare Foundation and the Kresge Foundation. It is administered by the ABA Resource Center for Access to Justice Initiatives. The purpose of the project is to expand the number of state access to justice commissions, strengthen existing commissions, and promote innovative initiatives by commissions.

American Bar Association Passes Unbundling Resolution

Last week, the American Bar Association passed a resolution supporting efforts of attorneys and of supporting institutions, such as bar associations and the judiciary, to increase utilization of limited scope representation as a means of increasing access to justice. Also known as “unbunding,” limited scope representation is when an attorney and client agree that the attorney will represent the client for certain parts of a case, with the client handling the rest.  Examples include hiring a lawyer just for a consultation or hiring a lawyer just to prepare pleadings for a case. Arkansas’s limited scope rule permits an attorney to limit the scope of her representation if it is reasonable under the circumstances and the client gives informed consent.

Unbundling works to increase access to justice by making legal services affordable for clients who have some reasources, but may not be able to pay for full representation.  The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission unanimously supported passage of the resolution.

AATJ Foundation Board Member Receives 2012 Equal Justice Distinguished Service Award

Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation Board Member Lori Chumbler is the 2012 recipient of the Arkansas Bar Association’s Equal Justice Distinguished Service Award, the Association announced earlier this month.  The award is given each year in recognition of commitment to and participation in equal justice program for the poor, including pro bono efforts through legal services programs.

Chumbler is Associate General Counsel for Walmart, where she coordinates the Walmart Legal Department pro bono program. In that role, she spearheaded the creation of a medical-legal partnership (MLP) that was the first in the nation to include a corporate legal department as a partner.  The 142-attorney legal department has partnered with Arkansas Children’s Hospital and the state’s two nonprofit legal service providers, the Center for Arkansas Legal Services and Legal Aid of Arkansas, to provide free legal assistance to families with sick children facing issues related to Medicaid coverage.  As a part of this, Ms. Chumbler also currently manages Walmart’s efforts to create a national collaborative network of MLPs at children’s hospitals across the country.

In addition to her leadership on the MLP effort, Chumbler has devoted her talents to the service of Legal Aid of Arkansas, where she is a board member and pro bono volunteer for LAA’s Equal Access to Justice Panel.  This past year, she handled two pro bono cases through the panel.  Chumbler also serves as a board member of the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation, which works to provide financial support for legal services for the poor and other access-to-justice-related initiatives in Arkansas, and as a member of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission’s Pro Bono Committee.

A cum laude graduate of the University of Arkansas, Lori Chumbler earned her B.A. in History in 1990.  She went on to attend Drake University Law School, where she graduated with honors in 1993. She was admitted to the Arkansas Bar in August of that year. After law school, Chumbler served as a deputy prosecuting attorney in Arkansas’ Nineteenth Judicial District.  From 1996 to 2006, Chumbler worked as a law clerk for the Honorable Justice Donald L. Corbin of the Arkansas Supreme Court.  She joined the Walmart Legal Department in 2006.

Chumbler is currently Associate General Counsel for Walmart and serves on the Legal Administration and External Relations team.  She serves as coordinator for Walmart’s pro bono medical-legal partnership (MLP) project and counsel to the Walmart Foundation.

Chumbler was recently honored by the American Bar Association as the 2012 recipient of its Outstanding Pro Bono Advocacy in Medical-Legal Partnerships Award.

Arkansas Supreme Court Issues Order Permitting Out-of-State Attorneys to Provide Pro Bono Services in Arkansas

In response to a petition that the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission filed in February, the Arkansas Supreme Court has handed down an order that permits attorneys licensed in other states who are not admitted in Arkansas to provide pro bono services to low-income clients under the sponsorship of a legal aid services provider that serves Arkansas clients. According to the Commission Executive Director Amy Johnson, nearly half of all clients who qualify for legal aid and have legal problems are turned away each year because the staff and volunteer resources are insufficient to meet the demand.  “The current need is so great that any increase in the number of attorneys available to provide pro bono services will help,” she said.

According to the Court’s opinion, this practice “will give in-house, corporate counsel the opportunity to volunteer in the community and will make justice more accessible to low-income Arkansans.”  Johnson says the order applies not only to corporate in-house counsel, but also to other non-admitted attorneys who reside in Arkansas and want to volunteer, but otherwise have no reason to seek admission to the Arkansas bar.  The Center for Arkansas Legal Services, Legal Aid of Arkansas, and Lone Star Legal Aid were all three named in the order as entities approved to sponsor non-admitted pro bono attorneys.  The change, effective immediately, is integrated into a newly-revised Administrative Order Number 15.

Chief Justice and Incoming Bar President Discuss Access to Justice

During the 2010 annual meeting of the Arkansas Bar Association, Chief Justice Jim Hannah and incoming Arkansas Bar Association President Jim Julian urged Arkansas lawyers to fulfill their obligations under Rule 6.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.  These obligations include handling 50 hours of pro bono work each year and contributing financial support to legal aid programs in Arkansas.

“We as an association must take the lead in addressing this challenge,” said Mr. Julian.  “We must assure that those in need can have access to justice in Arkansas.  We can do that by supporting the work of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission.”

Below, we have posted videos of the portions of Chief Justice Hannah’s and Mr. Julian’s speeches in which they discuss the status of access to justice efforts in Arkansas.  The Access to Justice Commission is extremely grateful to Chief Justice Hannah and Mr. Julian for their leadership in addressing the justice gap in Arkansas.

Chief Justice Jim Hannah

“Contrary to the fear and concern expressed by a few, this work [access to justice] is not about encouraging or enabling members of the public who could otherwise secure the paid services of an attorney to represent them.  Rather it seeks to make available an array of tools and programs which better enable our citizens to access the legal advice and services they need.”

Arkansas Bar President Jim Julian

“You have heard two or three times at this bar association meeting about our obligations under the model rules of professional conduct: 50 hours of pro bono service per year.  If we all made that commitment, access to justice would not be the concern that it presently is.  As individuals and collectively, we can make a difference in the lives of so many people who are in need.  Donate your time; donate your talents.  Make a difference in this area.”