Empowering Court Staff:

Legal Info vs. Legal Advice Guide 

In an effort to bridge the justice gap and enhance the support available to the public, Arkansas Access to Justice Commission has released a comprehensive legal guide specifically designed for court staff. This guide aims to empower court personnel with the knowledge and tools necessary to assist the public effectively while staying within the bounds of their roles. By clarifying the distinction between providing helpful legal information and engaging in the practice of law, we hope to make the legal process more accessible to all Arkansans, particularly those who represent themselves.

Arkansas Courts are called on to help Arkansans resolve thousands of legal issues each year. In 2022, there were 174,900 cases resolved by the courts. Unfortunately, many of the litigants involved will be unable to afford an attorney to help them navigate the legal system. As of 2022, 619,420 Arkansans were living in poverty and qualified for legal aid. However, Arkansas’s legal aid programs had only 58 attorneys to serve this community. In addition, Arkansas is experiencing a shortage of private practice attorneys to meet the needs of even Arkansans who are not living in poverty. Arkansas ranks 45th in the nation in attorneys per capita. Rural areas are particularly underserved, with 84% of active attorneys located in five counties, which represent just 39% of the state’s population.

Even in counties with large attorney populations, huge percentages of litigants remain unserved.   For instance, in Pulaski County, some case types had at least one unrepresented party in over 90% of cases.

If we are to fulfill our nation’s promise of justice for all, courts must be empowered to provide legal information which can help self-represented litigants resolve their legal issues. Many court employees have been hesitant to provide resources to self-represented litigants because they fear crossing the line between providing legal information and providing legal advice. 

As a general rule, offering resources which provide information about the legal process is not the unauthorized practice of law. Activities which cross into the unauthorized practice of law are those which call for applying the expertise of a lawyer to the specific situation of an individual litigant. These are the “should” questions. Court staff must not advise litigants of what they should do. However, they can answer “could” questions by explaining to self- represented litigants what a court user could do, without endorsing a particular course of action. These kinds of answers provide general information about the legal process that are applicable to any person in the litigant’s situation.

This guide will present eight ways that court staff can assist in providing legal information to the public. 

The services covered include: 

  • legal aid referrals
  • court procedure explanations 
  • fact sheets and forms
  • offering the use of public access kiosks 
  • use of plain language
  • interpreter services 
  • child support guidelines & calculator 
  • options for hiring an attorney

Our hope is that this guide will serve as a vital resource for court staff, enabling them to contribute more confidently and effectively to our shared goal of closing the justice gap. By equipping court personnel with clear guidelines and practical tools, we can ensure that all Arkansans have the support they need to navigate the legal system. For those interested in obtaining a copy of this guide, it is available for download as a PDF, can be viewed as an eBook, or you can request a printed copy by contacting our Program Coordinator at megan@arkansasjustice.org. 

This guide was developed and approved by the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission with input from the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee.

Request a Printed Copy