The Arkansas Supreme Court has added Arkansas to the list of more than 40 states that allow retired and inactive attorneys to provide pro bono legal representation to low-income citizens. In an opinion handed down today, the Court adopted Administrative Order 15.3 permitting attorneys with a license status of retired or voluntary inactive to provide free legal representation under the auspices of a legal aid program. The order’s provisions are effective immediately.
“Pro bono service is incredibly important for ensuring access to justice for some of our state’s most vulnerable families,” said Brian Rosenthal, President of the Arkansas Bar Association. Rosenthal, who appointed the committee that worked to develop a recommendation to the Court to adopt a so-called “emeritus” rule, praised the Court’s decision as one that will encourage attorneys who no longer wish to be in private practice to remain engaged in the profession in a meaningful way.
When it comes to access to lawyers, Arkansas is one of the most underserved states in the country. In 2018, there were about 22 resident lawyers for every 10,000 people statewide, with rural counties averaging only 6 lawyers per 10,000.
“If you are a victim of domestic violence, if you are about to lose your home, or if you need guardianship of your grandchild because her parents can’t care for her, you have no right to an attorney,” said Amy Johnson, Executive Director of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission. “Many Arkansans in precarious situations like these simply can’t afford to hire one.”
The problem is compounded by the sheer volume of domestic relations, probate, and civil cases that get filed in Arkansas trial courts each year. In 2018, there were 110,551 such filings across the state, according to the 2018 Annual Report of the Arkansas Administrative Office of the Courts.
Nearly 300 lawyers in the state will be eligible to provide pro bono service under the order. To qualify, they cannot have been the subject of any public disciplinary action within the last five years, they have to provide the services without a fee or any expectation of one, and the cases they handle must be referred through one of three entities: the Center for Arkansas Legal Services, Legal Aid of Arkansas, or Lone Star Legal Aid.
The rule’s adoption coincides with Access to Justice Month, which lawyers across the state celebrate in October of each year to recognize the contributions that legal aid and pro bono attorneys make to the profession and to the public. The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission, the Center for Arkansas Legal Services, and Legal Aid of Arkansas, and other community partners are hosting a series of events, including a criminal records sealing event, a wills clinic for seniors, a simple divorce clinic, and an October 15 kick-off event that will recognize pro bono volunteers. A full listing of events in Arkansas and around the country can be found by clicking here.