Clinton School Students’ Research Helps Arkansas Access to Justice Evaluate the Economic Impact of Legal Aid in Arkansas

A team of graduate students conducted research to help Arkansas Access to Justice Commission calculate the economic impact of civil legal aid services in Arkansas provided by the state’s two legal aid providers: the Center for Arkansas Legal Services, which serves 44 counties in central, western, and southern Arkansas; and Legal Aid of Arkansas, which serves 31 counties in northern and eastern Arkansas.

University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service students Paola Cavallari of Termoli, Italy, Matthew Devlin of Silver Spring, Maryland, and Rebekah Tucci of Lakeland, Florida, spent the past year completing an assessment of direct cost/benefits and opportunity costs by comparing state and national data trends, as well as a qualitative assessment that included legal aid attorney interviews and surveys of circuit court judges and former legal services clients.

They collected basic information on these programs’ operations and assessed the impact of the services provided on individual clients and on the larger community. The data indicated that in 2013, the two legal aid programs created an estimated $25 million of total economic activity in the state. The financial recoveries and avoidance of losses for legal aid clients alone totaled more than $8.6 million—an amount that exceeds the programs’ combined operating costs by over $2.5 million.

“Access to legal representation often makes the difference between poverty and self-sufficiency for a family that is living on the edge,” said the Commission’s Executive Director, Amy Johnson. “This study has confirmed that civil legal aid not only improves the lives of Arkansas families, but it has a stimulus effect on the state’s economy.”

With access to the legal system at crisis levels for the poor and working poor in Arkansas, the Commission emphasized the need for data that will assist it in making the case to policymakers and funders that civil legal aid is a cost-effective tool for combating poverty.

The final report consisted of a more holistic understanding of legal aid services in Arkansas—including the direct and indirect savings to Arkansas taxpayers, a better understanding of the individual impact to the clients receiving services and a clearer picture regarding the impact of legal aid services on the administration of justice.

“This study has laid the groundwork for further examination of innovative ways that we can deliver services in a way that ensures that all Arkansans have access to the civil justice system,” said Johnson. “This is important work.”

The Clinton School team will present the results of their research on May 5, 2014 at a 5:30 p.m. public forum at Sturgis Hall on the Clinton School’s campus.

The students completed the project as part of the Clinton School’s Practicum program, the first of three field service projects in the Master of Public Service degree program.

Clinton School Students to Partner with Commission for Economic Benefit Study

A team of four Clinton School of Public Services will be partnering with the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission during the 2013-02014 academic year to perform a study on the economic benefits of civil legal aid, according to a press release issued by the school earlier this week. Rebekah Tucci (Lakeland, Fla.), Paola Cavallari (Termoli, Italy), Matt Devlin (Silver Spring, Md.), and Hannah Michow-Proffitt (Annapolis, Md.), will conduct the study, which the Commission will use to educate policymakers and funders regarding how access to civil legal services can augment public and private efforts to provide low-income Arkansans with access to healthcare, affordable housing, education, economic security and family stability.

“Access to legal representation often makes the difference between poverty and self-sufficiency for a family that is living on the edge,” said the Commission’s Executive Director, Amy Johnson. This study will help us make the case that legal aid is a good investment.”

“These projects are a wonderful opportunity for our students to practice the skills they are developing at the Clinton School,” said Marie Lindquist, director of field service education. “We are appreciative of our community partners throughout Arkansas who are involved in outstanding public service work and mentor our students in that work.” The study will build on findings from a previous Clinton School field project that focused on a comprehensive legal needs assessment of the low-income community, according to Johnson.

Clinton School Students Research Unmet Civil Legal Needs in Arkansas

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.”

Clinton School Student Completes Study on Self-Represented Litigation in Arkansas

Clinton School student Chanley Painter recently partnered with the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission to examine the prevalence and impact of self-representation in Arkansas civil courts.

The project involved gathering and analyzing data from county courthouses and developing and conducting a state-wide survey of Arkansas circuit court judges, culminating in a detailed final report describing the methodology and research findings.

“I am very excited about sharing this work with our stakeholders,” said Amy Johnson, Executive Director of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission, “and I am hopeful that this will lay the groundwork for future research that will aid the Commission in identifying and addressing the civil legal needs that are going unmet.”