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.”

Legal Aid of Arkansas Receives ABA Legal Access Job Corps Catalyst Grant

Legal Aid of Arkansas is one of seven recipients nationally to receive a catalyst grant from the American Bar Association’s Legal Access Job Corps initiative, according to a release issued by the ABA earlier this month. A total of 96 applicants submitted grant proposals to the program, which was created by ABA President James Silkenat “to help nurture innovative programs that bridge the unmet legal needs of our society and the unmet employment needs of our young lawyers.”

The catalyst grant will provide $15,000 to LAA for the creation of two one-year fellowships for recent Arkansas law school graduates. LAA will match the funds dollar-for-dollar and provide supervision, mentoring, support, and assistance as they become established in the practice of law. Fellows must demonstrate a desire to establish law practices in rural and underserved areas of Arkansas and show a commitment to serving the legal needs of poor and moderate-income persons. Among the fellows’ responsibilities will be helping establish a “low bono” or “modest means” pro bono panel to provide services to Arkansans who do not qualify for legal aid, but who do not have the means to hire a private attorney.

“Arkansas has some of the most impoverished communities in the country,” said LAA Executive Director Lee Richardson. “This program will ultimately give us the opportunity to build a self-sustaining legal service delivery model to assist Arkansans who live in poor, sparsely populated areas of the state.”

Friday Firm’s Harry Light Honored for Commitment to Access to Justice

Friday, Eldredge & Clark partner Harry Light has received the Arkansas Bar Foundation’s 2014 Equal Justice Distinguished Service Award. The award, which was presented at a June 11 awards banquet in Hot Springs, is given annually to recognize dedication to and participation in the equal justice program for the poor, including pro bono efforts through legal services programs.

Light, who practices in the areas of bankruptcy, creditors’ rights, commercial litigation, and trademark/copyright applications, has also served as the mayor of Cammack Village, Arkansas, since 1995.

Light has demonstrated an ardent commitment to improving access to justice in Arkansas through his pro bono service in the Arkansas Delta. In 2013 alone, Light donated more than 64 hours of his time to the medical-legal partnership in Clarendon, Arkansas, at Mid-Delta Health Systems. On the third Tuesday of every month, he interviews clients, provides advice, and takes cases.

“I am humbled each time I visit with legal aid clients in the Delta and am fortified by the strength and courage they exhibit in meeting life’s basic challenges with limited means,” Light said. “To be able to assist them in some small way is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding privileges of being an Arkansas lawyer.”

Light has been a member of the Volunteer Organization for the Center for Arkansas Legal Services (VOCALS) since 1990. He is also a member of Legal Aid of Arkansas’s Equal Access to Justice Panel (EAJP).

Light puts precedence on making personal connections through his pro bono work. In 2012, he handled a case involving a guardianship for two newborn twins. A twin himself, Light was eager to assist the babies’ grandmother in filing a petition. Over the Thanksgiving holiday that year, Light stopped by the Clarendon grocery store to pick up a gift certificate for his client, who was caring for two other grandchildren in addition to the twins. After visiting the family, he remarked to a colleague, “I never knew pro bono work could be so emotional.”

In addition to his pro bono work, Light volunteers for the Central Arkansas Rescue Effort for Animals (CARE), which he founded in 1998. He also serves on the boards of Metroplan and the Arkansas Better Business Bureau. Light has served on the Arkansas Bar Association’s House of Delegates and Board of Governors, and in 2009, he received the Association’s Golden Gavel Award for his work as the Chair of the 2009 Annual Meeting.

Arkansas Access to Justice Commission members Representative John Vines and D’lorah Hughes, as well as Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation board member Frank Sewall, were also recognized at the June 11 ceremony for their contributions to the legal profession.

Vines was awarded the Arkansas Bar Association Presidential Award. The award honors an individual who works to advance the administration of justice and promotes the principles of integrity, learning, and public service. Hughes received the Special Award of Merit for her substantial contributions to the education of future Arkansas lawyers through her work in the Juvenile Law Clinic at the University of Arkansas School of Law.

Sewall received the Arkansas Bar Foundation’s C.E. Ransick Award of Excellence. This award is presented to an attorney each year whom the Arkansas Bar Association recognizes for setting the bar of excellence and for demonstrating exemplary practice in and out of the courtroom.

Friday, Eldredge & Clark to Receive National Award for Pro Bono Service

Arkansas’s largest law firm—Friday, Eldredge & Clark—is among a handful of law firms nationally that the National Legal Aid & Defender Association has selected to receive its prestigious Beacon of Justice Award at a June 2014 ceremony in Washington, D.C. The firm will be receiving the award in recognition of its pioneering volunteer work with Legal Aid of Arkansas and an Arkansas Delta-based medical-legal partnership. Award recipients were selected using critera that assessed increased access to representation through the utilization of groundbreaking and original ideas, tools, and technology to create new delivery models and initiatives.

In 2012, the Friday Firm’s Commercial Litigation Practice Group began traveling to Clarendon, Arkansas, on the third Thursday of every month to meet with patients at Mid-Delta Health Systems. Since that time, they have “adopted” the clinic and now send a team of attorneys to meet with clinic patients twice a month to provide free legal assistance for issues ranging from family law to consumer matters. Their work has expanded to include another Legal Aid of Arkansas medical-legal partnership in another poor, rural area of the state: Lee County Cooperative Clinic in Marianna, Arkansas.

“The Friday Firm’s commitment to these projects has proven to be an innovative, high-impact way to help these rural clinics address underlying social issues that affect health outcomes of their patients,” said Arkansas Access to Justice Commission Executive Director Amy Johnson. The firm’s attorneys volunteered more than 300 hours in 2013 on this project alone, said Johnson. In total, Friday Firm attorneys performed a total of more than 1,700 hours of pro bono services statewide in 2013. At least two of the Friday Firm’s clients have supported these efforts, either by making financial contributions to the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation or by sponsoring and providing employee support for pro bono events.

Harry Light—a Friday Firm lawyer who volunteers for the medical-legal partnership project—underscored the personal impact that this project has had on him: “I am humbled each time I visit with legal aid clients in the Delta and am fortified by the strength and courage they exhibit in meeting life’s basic challenges with limited means. To be able to assist them in some small way is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding privileges of being an Arkansas lawyer.”

Shep Russell, the managing partner at the Friday firm, noted how the firm’s young lawyers are drawn to access to justice issues:  “Our younger lawyers are busy establishing their practices, but they make time for pro bono work. It fulfills their desire to use their skills to improve the community, whether it be writing simple wills and powers of attorney for the parents of children who are patients at Arkansas Children’s Hospital or helping a grandmother become the legal guardian of her grandchildren.” He added, “We are humbled that the NLADA has recognized our firm for the pro bono work that our lawyers did because they wanted to make a difference.”

NLADA annually sponsors 13 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’s Technology Initiative Grant program; 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. Award winners will be formally honored at the NLADA Exemplar Award Dinner on Thursday, June 26, 2014, at The Mayflower Renaissance Hotel in Washington D.C.

As Arkansas’s largest law firm, Friday, Eldredge & Clark serves a diverse clientele across Arkansas and throughout the United States. The firm’s lawyers work closely, whether as local counsel or regional counsel, with some of the finest firms in America.  The firm is a member of the Southern Law Network, comprising many of the leading law firms with offices in 13 states.

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.

Commissioner Bill Waddell Receives Father Joseph Biltz Award


Arkansas Access to Justice Commission Vice Chair Bill Waddell was one of three 2014 recipients of the Just Communities of Arkansas Father Joseph Biltz Award at JCA’s March 12 Gathering of Friends event. Waddell, who is a partner at Friday, Eldredge & Clark, was recognized for his tireless efforts to provide equal access to the legal system for those who are poor or otherwise marginalized, both through his own pro bono work and through his association with the Commission and the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation.

“My faith teaches me of the dignity and sacred worth of all people,” said Waddell as he accepted the honor. “Making sure that everyone has access to the justice system honors that worth and reinforces our common belief in ‘liberty and justice for all’ that we express when we say the Pledge of Allegiance.”

The Father Biltz Award is named for Father Joseph Biltz, who was a passionate leader for peace and justice. He worked with an array of people on many issues, including the poor and the elderly, for the repeal of the death penalty and the reduction of nuclear arms.

Arkansas Access to Justice Receives $50,000 Cy Pres Award

The Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation has received a $50,000 cy pres award, according to Executive Director Amy Johnson. The funds will be used to support the organization’s mission of ensuring that all Arkansans have access to the civil justice system, particularly those who cannot afford an attorney and who are facing legal issues affecting basic human needs. “Cy pres,” which means “as near as possible” is a legal doctrine often applied in class action lawsuits when a resulting recovery cannot be distributed to all members of the class.

The award arose from a state class action lawsuit initiated by El Dorado attorney Bob Depper in 2005 following an early January explosion at the Teris LLC hazardous waste incineration plant. The explosion led to the evacuation of about 1500 El Dorado residents, with a number of those affected complaining of headaches, nausea, and eye irritation. The lawsuit settled in August 2012 for $320,000. As of late December 2013, just over $50,000 had gone unclaimed by class members affected by the explosion. Mr. Depper proposed that the unclaimed amount be awarded to the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation.

“It was important to me that these funds go to a nonprofit organization that supports the cause of justice,” said Mr. Depper. “I have always believed in supporting legal aid.”

Mr. Depper has practiced law in El Dorado since 1981. He is a principal at the Depper Law Firm, Inc., which is a full-service general practice firm. Throughout his career, Mr. Depper has handled numerous class action lawsuits. He also served on a committee that led to the formation of Arkansas Volunteers for the Elderly, which was established to provide pro bono attorneys to assist elderly Arkansans with civil legal matters.

For more information about cy pres awards, visit our cy pres page.

Arkansas Access to Justice Commission Releases Recommendations for Addressing Pro Se Needs

The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission has released a comprehensive set of recommendations for addressing the legal needs of the growing number of Arkansans who are unable to afford to pay for representation in civil cases that deal with such basic needs as family stability, health care, and economic security. Funded by a 2012 technical assistance grant from the State Justice Institute, the study was completed earlier this year by Greacen Associates, LLC.

‘Shocking Numbers’

The study builds on previous research conducted in 2011 by then-Clinton School of Public Service student Chanley Painter.  Painter’s study sampled cases in Cleburne, St. Francis, and Pulaski Counties involving domestic relations, guardianships, small estates, foreclosures, and consumer law. Of those cases, 22% to 27% of petitioners represented themselves. Between 90% and 95% of respondents either represented themselves or defaulted.

Painter also surveyed circuit court judges regarding their experiences with self-represented litigants. Eighty-four percent of responding judges reported that they have seen an increase in the number of self-represented litigants over the last three years. The study also indicated that lack of legal representation negatively affects court operations and typically results in worse outcomes for SRLs.  Ninety-one percent of responding judges reported differences in how efficiently cases are handled when parties are represented by counsel.

“These numbers were shocking,” said Commission Executive Director Amy Johnson. “It became clear to us that legal aid and pro bono representation alone could not possibly scale to the huge unmet legal needs of Arkansans. We needed a plan.”

‘Private Market Solution’

The SJI grant funded an assessment of the needs of self-represented litigants in Arkansas and a strategic plan for the delivery of services designed to meet the need.  Greacen Associates and Commission staff gathered information for the study through a series of interviews with court staff and judges, local attorneys, self-represented litigants, and other stakeholders in five different counties in Arkansas.

The final report, which was unanimously adopted by the Commission in July, included recommendations for encouraging private lawyers to provide limited scope legal representation; for making legal information and forms more broadly available for civil legal issues that are most prevalent among Arkansans of limited means; and for linking attorneys who provide limited scope services to clients who need them.

Arkansas lawyers have long considered legal representation to be an “all-or-nothing” proposition, pricing themselves out of the market for average Arkansans, said Johnson. “If implemented, these recommendations will facilitate development of a private market of discrete legal services that are affordable for clients, profitable for attorneys, and ethically sound,” she said. “In the end, I believe this is the most realistic hope we have bridging the justice gap in Arkansas.”

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.