A team of graduate students recently completed a comprehensive statewide study to assist Legal Aid of Arkansas and the Center for Arkansas Legal Services to identify the most pressing legal needs of low-income Arkansans.
University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service students Margaret Hobbs of El Dorado, Ark., Mary Pitre of New Orleans, La., Tyler Pearson of Conway, Ark., and Gregg Potter of Lyndon Station, Wis., spent eight months collecting data from low-income Arkansans and the legal community to learn about the unmet legal needs of Arkansans and the perceptions of the legal community about which needs are the greatest.
They designed and distributed surveys across the state and conducted focus groups in each Congressional district. The method of surveying both the low-income population and the legal community provided for a particularly comprehensive assessment. With over 1,200 responses, the data maintained a confidence level of 95% with a 3.33 margin of error and the high response rate provided rich quantitative and qualitative data.
Using this data, they produced a report for the organizations that analyzed the findings and gave recommendations for strategic planning. More than 70 percent of respondents to the legal community survey included specific suggestions about how to address the unmet civil legal needs in Arkansas.
The research has shown that the most prevalent legal issues faced by the potentially-eligible client community relate to family law, consumer matters, and government benefits. The legal community consistently ranked family law, consumer, government benefits, and juvenile issues as case types that they perceive to be the most prevalent. Focus group data supported the finding the cost of hiring a lawyer often precludes low-income Arkansans from accessing representation.
“With limited resources at our disposal, it is critical that we focus our services in the areas of greatest need,” said Lee Richardson, executive director of Legal Aid of Arkansas. “This assessment will enhance our ability to target issues and maximize the impact of our work.”