Commission to Participate in Helena and Eudora “Super Saturday” Events


The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission will be joining with businesses and non-profits for two “Super Saturday” events, one in Helena and one in Eudora. Partner organizations include Sourthern Bancorp, Friday, Eldredge, and Clark, Legal Aid of Arkansas, and the Center for Arkansas Legal Services. These events will provide free tax and will preparation services to low-income residents of Helena and Eudora.

Event details are as follows:

Helena
February 11th, 10am-2pm
Southern Bancorp, 502 Cherry Street

Eudora
February 25th, 10am-2pm
J Austin White Community Center, 160 South Main Street

Tax payers interested in learning more or who need to locate another “Super Saturday” event in their area can visit banksouthern.com/vita to find more information. Attorneys or law students interested in volunteering to prepare estate planning documents at these events should contact the Commission’s Program Coordinator, Jordan Rogers.

Veteran Legal Aid Attorney Receives Equal Justice Distinguished Service Award


Center for Arkansas Legal Services Managing Attorney Dustin Duke is the 2015 recipient of the Arkansas Bar Foundation‘s Equal Justice Distinguished Service Award, according to the Foundation’s Executive Director Ann Pyle. The award, which was presented at a June 10, 2015 awards banquet, is given each year in recognition of commitment to and participation in equal justice program for the poor, including pro bono efforts through legal services programs.

During his 14 years of practice, Duke has served clients through both the Center for Arkansas Legal Services and Legal Aid of Arkansas. In his 11 years with the Center, he has handled more than 3,800 cases, 165 of which were in 2014.  Much of his case work has focused on family law and domestic abuse. In 2014, Duke was among a team of legal aid attorneys who succeeded in getting Arkansas’s criminal eviction statute overturned in the state’s most populous county.

“Dustin is often the first person to arrive at the office in the morning, and the last to leave in the evening,” said Center for Arkansas Legal Services Executive Director Jean Carter. “He works tirelessly to provide his clients with the best possible representation, and his colleagues respect his leadership and his commitment to obtaining justice.”

Policy Brief on Access to Justice in Rural Arkansas Released


Arkansas’s rural communities face a looming crisis when it comes to access to essential legal services: a dwindling and aging attorney population in the state’s 25 most rural counties. A policy brief entitled Access to Justice in Rural Arkansas, released today by the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission, indicates that these counties average fewer than 0.44 practicing attorneys per 1,000 residents. Seven of these counties have no attorneys licensed this millennium, and one has no attorneys at all.

Despite these sobering statistics, there is hope. Many Arkansas law students would consider locating in a rural part of the state if certain incentives were made available. Rural legal aid fellowships, loan repayment assistance, and paid internships are among the programs that a majority of law students showed interest in, according to the survey of law students and attorneys that is the subject of the policy brief. Rural attorneys indicated a greater willingness to mentor and hire young lawyers than did attorneys from non-rural communities.

The survey probed the likely effectiveness of five complementary programs that the state’s two law schools and the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission are jointly considering. Among the factors most likely to encourage students to practice in a rural setting were (1) the ability to have one’s own practice, (2) the opportunity to become a community leader, and (3) the ability to have and maintain their own clientele. Factors most likely to discourage students from locating to rural communities included (1) the perception that they would earn a lower income, (2) a perceived lack of career and economic opportunities, and (3) a relative lack of entertainment, restaurants, and similar amenities.

For questions about the policy brief, which details the results of a series of recent surveys conducted by Prof. Lisa R. Pruitt of UC Davis School of Law, please contact us. A forthcoming article in the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law Review will provide a more in-depth analysis of the rural access problem and its implications.

Commission Honors Legal Aid Advocates at Annual Staff Conference


The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission honored two legal aid staff members at the 2014 Statewide Legal Aid Staff Conference held October 15-17 at Lake DeGray State Park. Center for Arkansas Legal Services Managing Attorney Dustin Duke and Legal Aid of Arkansas paralegal Kathy Grady received the Commission’s Champion of Justice Award in recognition of their exemplary commitment to ensuring that disadvantaged Arkansans have access to civil justice through high-quality legal representation.

Duke, who works in the Little Rock office, has handled more than 3,800 cases during his ten years with legal aid. Much of his case work has focused on family cases involving domestic abuse. Grady is a veteran paralegal in the LAA Newport office, where she has worked for 34 years.


“Dustin and Kathy are both accomplished, passionate advocates who put their hearts and souls into serving Arkansas’s most vulnerable citizens,” said Commission Executive Director Amy Johnson. “They do it with no expectation of recognition or even thanks. They represent the very best of what the legal profession should be about.”

The Champion of Justice Award is given to an attorney or staff advocate who has worked for legal aid for three or more years; whose primary job responsibilities include direct service to clients; and who handles client matters with compassion, tenacity, and professionalism.

Access to Justice Commission Releases Final Economic Impact Report

The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission has just published its final report analyzing the economic impact of civil legal aid in Arkansas. The study, which was completed in April 2014 by a team of students from the Clinton School of Public Service, was the subject of presentations given on May 5 in Little Rock and October 2 in Rogers. Significant findings included the following:

  • In 2013, Arkansas’s two legal aid providers—CALS and LAA—served nearly 12,000 clients in 2013 at a cost that was $2.4 million less than the equivalent cost of such services in the private legal market.
  • Legal aid saved clients an estimated $3.4 million in costs for nonlawyer legal document services.
  • Legal aid put nearly $2.3 million into the pockets of their clients and helped them avoid liabilities of over $9.4 million.
  • Representation in housing foreclosure cases prevented $2.2 million in diminished housing values.
  • Legal assistance for domestic violence victims likely prevented more than $3.9 million in costs for emergency shelter, medical expenses, and social services.
  • Revenues that legal aid brings into the state generate an additional $8.8 million in economic activity in the state by virtue of their multiplier effect in local communities.

In all, legal aid in Arkansas yielded a total of over $32 million in economic activity in Arkansas in 2013.

“These numbers are even higher than the original projections developed this past spring,” said Commission Executive Director and Project Supervisor Amy Johnson. “It confirms what we have long known to be the case, which is that civil legal aid has positive effects that ripple through our economy and society. It is a highly effective tool for fighting poverty.”

Vincent Morris Receives NLADA Innovations in Equal Justice Award

Arkansas Legal Services Partnership Director Vincent Morris received the National Legal Aid & Defender Association‘s 2014 Innovations in Equal Justice Award at a May 1 award ceremony in Portland, Oregon. The ceremony was attended by over 400 guests, including American Bar Association President Charles Silkenat and Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Balmer. Morris received the award in recognition of his outstanding career contributions to creativity and innovation in the delivery of legal service to poor people.

NLADA annually sponsors thirteen awards honoring the distinguished men, women, firms and organizations whose outstanding service and achievements advance the cause of equal access to justice. Past awardees have included Brad Smith of Microsoft; Rick Cotton of NBC Universal; Legal Services Corporation Technology; Hillary Rodham Clinton, Legal Services Advocate and First Lady; New York Times; Daily Record; Hon. Janet Reno, Former United States Attorney General; Brooklyn (NY) Bar Association; State Bar of California; and many others advancing the cause of equal access to justice.

In presenting the honor, NLADA Vice President of Civil Legal Services Don Saunders highlighted a variety of Morris’s achievements in the eleven years since he began work for legal aid as an eight-week intern. While working as an intern, Morris applied for and received a Technology Initiative Grant to build a statewide legal aid website for the Center for Arkansas Legal Services and Legal Aid of Arkansas. He has since grown the website to include more than 170 automated resources, real-time chat assistance, streaming videos, and hundreds of advocate resources.

“Morris’s work is vital to the more than 17,000 clients that Arkansas’s two legal aid providers serve each year, the advocates who help them, and the Arkansans who are not eligible for legal aid and cannot afford an attorney,” said Saunders.

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 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.”

Arkansas Access to Justice Awarded SJI Grant for Study on Unrepresented Litigants

The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission is one of nine recipients of a State Justice Institute Technical Assistance Grant for the 3rd quarter of 2012, according to Commission Executive Director Amy Johnson.  The grant will cover $46,400 of the project’s total estimated cost of $69,656.  Grant partners include Arkansas Legal Services Partnership, the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation, and the Arkansas Administrative Office of the Courts.

The project will build a foundation to establish a statewide strategy for addressing the growing number of unrepresented litigants in Arkansas courts. Specific objectives of the project are to (1) conduct an assessment of resources that currently exist which address or may potentially address the needs of unrepresented litigants in Arkansas; (2) determine which additional resources are most needed to address the needs of unrepresented litigants; and (3) prepare a plan for the development and sustainability of those resources.

“This study is a necessary step toward addressing a huge problem for low-income Arkansans and for our courts,” said Johnson.  “When those who can’t afford attorneys are left to try to navigate the legal system on their own, justice is not served.”

A 2011 pilot study conducted by the Commission through the Clinton School of Public Service suggests that as many as 90 to 95% of cases involving family law, consumer protection, and guardianships and small estates may have at least one unrepresented party.

Arkansas Celebrates National Pro Bono Week 2011

Arkansas attorneys and law students will celebrate National Pro Bono Week beginning October 24, 2011, with a series of events that will include the provision of free legal services to first responders.

The celebration is a coordinated national effort to meet the ever-growing needs of this country’s most vulnerable citizens. Events throughout the week will encourage and support local efforts to expand the delivery of pro bono legal services and serve to showcase the great difference that pro bono attorneys make to the nation, its system of justice, its communities, and most of all, to the clients they serve.

Event highlights in Arkansas include:

Monday, October 24 – Proclamations Recognizing Importance of Pro Bono Service 
Governor Mike Beebe, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, and Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan will issue proclamations recognizing the important role that Arkansas pro bono attorneys play in ensuring that low-income Arkansans have access to civil justice.

Tuesday, October 25 – Pro Bono Luncheon in Northwest Arkansas
Presidents of the Benton and Washington County Bar associations, along with 2011 Legal Aid Outstanding Service Award winner Eva Madison, will speak at a luncheon hosted in the E.J. Ball Courtroom at the University of Arkansas School of Law.

Wednesday, October 26 – Free Lawyers for First Responders in Northwest Arkansas
Volunteer attorneys will be available to prepare simple wills, advance directives, and powers of attorney for health care and financial matters to first responders in northwest Arkansas, including firefighters, police officers, and emergency health care workers. This is a free service provided by Arkansas lawyers from multiple organizations, law firms, bar associations and the University of Arkansas School of Law.

Thursday, October 27 – Free Lawyers for First Responders in Central Arkansas
Following issuance of a proclamation from Attorney General Dustin McDaniel recognizing the importance of pro bono service, volunteer attorneys will be available to prepare simple wills, advance directives, and powers of attorney for health care and financial matters to first responders in central Arkansas. This is a free service provided by Arkansas lawyers from multiple organizations, law firms, bar associations and UALR Bowen School of Law.

Friday, October 28 – Just Jeans
Law firms, corporate legal departments, government legal offices, judicial offices, and law schools are encouraged to participate in the Just Jeans event by observing a casual Friday on October 28, 2011, with participants making a minimum suggested contribution of $5.  Contributions collected will go to the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation to support efforts to increase the financial and pro bono volunteer resources available to our state’s two legal aid providers. This will, in turn, help low-income Arkansans, including domestic violence victims, children, and senior citizens, access the legal services they need.

Saturday, October 29 – iProBono
Arkansas pro bono attorneys will be able to download, free of charge, the first Pro Bono mobile service application through iTunes. Through this app, registered Arkansas pro bono attorneys will be able to accept cases representing low-income Arkansans based on legal topic, county, or by other categories with their iPhones. Two Arkansas web and software development companies, LogiCurrent and Path Designs, are providing free development services for this innovative project.