Arkansas Supreme Court Approves Merger of IOLTA, Access to Justice Foundations

The Arkansas Supreme Court has approved the merger of the Arkansas IOLTA Foundation and Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation effective January 1, 2014, according to an opinion handed down today.  The surviving entity will be called the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation and will continue the functions related to collection of interest earned on lawyer’s trust accounts as the “IOLTA Program” of the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation.

The Arkansas IOLTA Foundation, which was incorporated in 1985, was established for the purpose of receiving interest earned on lawyer’s trust accounts and using the revenues generated to make grants to provide funds for legal services to the poor, projects that improve the administration of justice, and legal education. The Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation was incorporated in September 2009 to promote and support access to the civil justice system by Arkansans who cannot afford an attorney, primarily by generating financial support for statewide efforts to increase access to justice.

“This is a very positive development that we believe will allow the Arkansas access to justice community to maximize the impact of our collective efforts to fulfill the Constitution’s promise of equal justice under the law,” said Amy Johnson, who serves as Executive Director of each organization.

In 2013, the boards of the IOLTA Foundation and AATJF—recognizing the need to diversify the funding sources of their respective organizations, maximize resources to support grantee organizations, and leverage statewide support for their closely aligned missions—voted to merge the two organizations.  They filed a petition requesting the merger in April.

The order approving the merger adopts conforming amendments to Arkansas Rule of Professional Conduct 1.15 and section 28 of the Arkansas Procedures Governing Professional Conduct.  These amendments simply substitute “Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation” for “Arkansas IOLTA Foundation,” where appropriate. According to Johnson, the merger will not otherwise affect IOLTA accounts, so no action on the part of attorneys or banks that participate in the IOLTA Program will be necessary.  The surviving foundation will retain the IOLTA Foundation’s Tax ID number.

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.”