2019 was a banner year for AR Free Legal Answers. The year started with a grant from the Arkansas Bar Foundation to help us let Arkansans know about Free Legal Answers. With that grant we printed printed 10,000 brochures and throughout the year we distributed them at courthouses, shelters, and libraries across the state. That effort paid off with a 53% increase in the number of questions answered by our volunteer attorneys, compared to 2018.
During the fall semester, students at the University of Arkansas School of Law and William H. Bowen School of Law participated in clinics to help low-income Arkansans with their legal questions. Students worked with volunteer attorneys to provide answers to legal questions that had been posted on AR.freelegalanswers.org. The questions were posted by Arkansans who could not otherwise afford legal help. Volunteers answered questions covering a wide variety of legal problems from divorce and custody to landlord-tenant issues.
The Arkansas Supreme Court has added Arkansas to the list of more than 40 states that allow retired and inactive attorneys to provide pro bono legal representation to low-income citizens. In an opinion handed down today, the Court adopted Administrative Order 15.3 permitting attorneys with a license status of retired or voluntary inactive to provide free legal representation under the auspices of a legal aid program. The order’s provisions are effective immediately.
Volunteer attorneys from around Arkansas have answered over 140 questions from pro bono clients so far this year on AR.freelegalanswers.org. This mid-year performance is the best since the site launched in 2016. If the trend continues, volunteers will set a new full-year record for the most clients helped through the site. The number of volunteers has also increased substantially, with 74 attorneys registered as volunteers on the site, an increase of 26 over this point last year.
AR.freelegalanswers.org is a pro bono portal that allows low to moderate-income Arkansans who are unable to pay for an attorney to post a question and receive an answer from a volunteer attorney. When a client visits the site, they complete a screening to ensure that they are eligible for assistance. Clients who are eligible are then allowed to post a question, along with any relevant documents.
Attorneys who volunteer on the site come from a variety of practice settings, including large firms, solo practices, government agencies, and in-house counsel departments. Law students have also contributed to the site’s success. Both the University of Arkansas School of Law and the William H. Bowen School of Law have hosted clinics where law students assisted clients under the supervision of licensed attorneys. Additional clinics are scheduled for September 27th at the University of Arkansas School of Law and October 25th at the William H. Bowen School of Law.
Volunteers receive monthly emails notifying them of all questions waiting for an answer. Some volunteers choose to receive an immediate notification each time a question is posted in one of their practice areas. When a volunteer is ready to help a client, they are able to view all questions in the queue and choose just the questions they feel comfortable answering. Attorney volunteers are asked only to provide advice. Court appearances are never required of volunteers, as clients agree that the scope of representation is limited to advice.
In order for the site’s success to continue, additional volunteers are needed. Currently, 74% of qualified applicants are able to be matched with a volunteer attorney. In order to serve 100% of qualified applicants, volunteers are needed to answer questions on the following topics: divorce, custody, housing, wills and estates, healthcare, and public benefits. Attorneys interested in volunteering on AR.freelegalanswers.org can get started by completing a brief registration form.
Members of the public seeking legal help should get started by checking their eligibility here. Social workers, court personnel, clergy, or others interested in connecting potentially eligible clients with AR.freelegalanswers.org should contact the site administrator, Jordan Rogers, to request free brochures.
AR.freelegalanswers.org is a collaborative project of the American Bar Association, Arkansas Bar Association, Arkansas Bar Foundation, and Arkansas Access to Justice.