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.