Jimmy Dill Named Jefferson County Volunteer Attorney of the Year

Jimmy Dill, of Pine Bluff Title Company, was recently named the 2016 Volunteer Attorney of the Year for Jefferson County. The award was presented by the Center for Arkansas Legal Services at the Jefferson County Bar Association’s December meeting. The Center is a non-profit law firm which represents low income individuals with legal problems. To be eligible for the Volunteer Attorney of the Year Award, an attorney must participate in the VOCALS program. This program allows the Center to serve more clients by matching attorneys in private practice willing to donate some of their time with indigent clients. Mr. Dill was selected for his dedication to service and willingness to assist clients through the VOCALS program.

The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission congratulates Mr. Dill on receiving this award and encourages all attorneys to show the same committment to giving back to their communties.

Arkansas Supreme Court Declares Pro Bono Week

For the first time, the Arkansas Supreme Court has officially declared a celebration of Pro Bono Week in Arkansas. The Court has designated October 23rd through the 29th as a time “to recognize the valuable contributions made by pro bono attorneys throughout the year and to encourage pro bono participation . . . .”  The per curiam also praised the legal community’s commitment to public service as “one of the noblest attributes of the legal profession.” The full opinion can be found here

Pro Bono Week began in 2009 as an event organized by the American Bar Association to honor the work of pro bono attorneys and to encourage pro bono service by more lawyers. The event has since grown into a nationwide observance with thousands participating in clinics, workshops, open houses and other events. The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission has helped to organize Pro Bono Week activities in Arkansas since 2011 and is excited to have the Arkansas Supreme Court join in the effort. In addition to the Supreme Court, Governor Asa Hutchinson has issued a proclamation recognizing Pro Bono Week and both houses of the Arkansas General Assembly have issued citations to recognize the week.

Celebrate Pro Bono October 23-29, 2016

During National Pro Bono Week 2016, there will be several opportunities for attorneys to give back to their communities, including statewide and local events. For more information on how to get involved, check out the list of events below.

Our House Expungement Clinic

What: Our House, the Center for Arkansas Legal Services, and the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission are partnering to host a clinic which will assist Our House clients in applying to have their criminal records sealed. Volunteer attorneys are still needed to assist in the clinic. No prior experience is necessary, as a free CLE will be provided before the clinic begins.

Where: Our House, 302 East Roosevelt Road Little Rock, AR.

When: October 28th, 2016. The CLE will begin at noon, with the clinic following at 1pm.

How to help: If you are interested in assisting with this clinic, contact Rachel Freeman, Pro Bono Coordinator for the Center for Arkansas Legal Services, at  501.376.3423.

AR Free Legal Answers

What: The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission will be launching a new website called AR Free Legal Answers. This website, which is part of a program supported by the American Bar Association, will allow persons eligible for free legal aid to post their legal questions. Volunteer attorneys will have the opportunity to select questions to answer at their convenience. Attorneys remain anonymous, with the client seeing only that the question was answered by an Arkansas licensed attorney. No specific time commitment is required of attorneys and malpractice insurance will provided.

Where: This website will launch statewide.

When:  Monday, October 24th.

How to help: Attorneys can sign up to volunteer here. Questions can be directed to Jordan Rogers, Program Coordinator for the Access to Justice Commission, at 501.492.7174.

Just Jeans

What: Law firms, corporate legal departments, community organizations, government legal offices, judicial offices, and law schools can all help make a difference in the lives of Arkansans in need. Participating employees and students will make a minimum contribution of $5 to observe a Casual Friday. Contributions collected will support legal help for domestic violence victims, veterans struggling to readjust to civilian life, and children in need of stable homes or special education.

Where: Statewide.

When: Friday, October 28.

How to help: Offices, schools, nonprofits, and individuals can sign up to participate here. For more information, contact Erin Jacobson at 501.492.7176.

Pro Bono in Your PJs: Volunteering for New AR Virtual Legal Advice Project

AR Free Legal Answers Volunteers Can Give Virtual Legal Advice Anytime, Anywhere

Arkansas lawyers now have a unique opportunity to give back while fulfilling the ethical obligation to perform at least fifty hours of pro bono service each year: with the launch of AR Free Legal Answers, you can sign up to answer online questions from low-income, elderly, and disabled Arkansans about non-criminal legal issues. As a volunteer attorney, you can select which questions you will answer. You will remain anonymous to clients, who will only see “Volunteer Attorney.” You will be covered by the program’s malpractice insurance and have access to hundreds of advocate resources on the topics covered.

AR Free Legal Answers is part of a national American Bar Association’s Free Legal Answers project that was originally pioneered in Tennessee. The Arkansas program is administered by Arkansas Access to Justice with support from the Arkansas Bar Association, the Center for Arkansas Legal Services, and Legal Aid of Arkansas.

Click here to read FAQs for attorney volunteers and here to watch a video explaining how the site works.

Ready to sign up? Click here.

Nate Coulter Receives 2016 Equal Justice Distinguished Service Award

Former Arkansas Access to Justice Commissioner and Foundation Board Member Nate Coulter was honored at the June 2016 Arkansas Bar Annual Meeting with the Equal Justice Distinguished Service Award. The Arkansas Bar Foundation annually issues the award to an individual in recognition of their commitment to and participation in equal justice programs for the poor, including pro bono efforts, through legal services programs.

Over the course of his career, Coulter has played a major role in shaping the access-to-justice movement in Arkansas. In 2000, he convened and invited leaders in the Arkansas bar, bench, law schools, and other stakeholders to speak at the first symposium on the legal needs of low-income Arkansans and access to justice in Arkansas. This event resulted in the creation of an Arkansas Bar Association task force that petitioned the Arkansas Supreme Court for the creation of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission. After the petition was granted, Coulter served on the Commission for eleven years. During his tenure, he was involved in initiatives to increase funding for civil legal aid and improve access to the civil justice system for all Arkansans.

Coulter has also demonstrated his commitment to access to justice through his service to other organizations. He has served as a member of VOCALS since 1987, and on the board of directors of the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation (formerly Arkansas IOLTA Foundation) board from 2002 to 2016.

Coulter currently serves at the Director of the Central Arkansas Library System.

Arkansas Adopts Ethics Rules on Unbundling

Last month, the Arkansas Supreme Court issued an order adopting proposed changes to the Arkansas Rules of Professional Conduct that clarify the responsibilities of attorneys who offer their services to clients on a limited scope basis. Also known as “unbundled” or “a la carte” legal services, limited scope representation offers an affordable alternative to clients who cannot afford traditional full-service representation, opens up new business opportunities for lawyers, and facilitates greater efficiency in the court system. The rules went into effect on the day of the May 12 opinion.

Modification to Arkansas Rules of Professional Conduct 1.2(c), 4.2, and 4.3 provides more explicit guidance for attorneys who provide limited scope legal services.  Arkansas Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2(c) authorizes Arkansas attorneys to provide this form of representation. That rule provides that “[a] lawyer may limit the scope of the representation if the limitation is reasonable under the circumstances and the client gives informed consent.” Additionally, the revisions include the addition of language regarding when a client’s informed consent has to be in writing, as well as language clarifying an attorney’s communication responsibilities when the opposing party is represented by a limited scope attorney.

Links to the revised rules can be found below, and sample Notices of Limited Scope Representation and Notice of Completion can be downloaded from the links below.

Ark. R. Prof’l Conduct 1.2
Ark. R. Prof’l Conduct 4.2
Ark. R. Prof’l Conduct 4.3

Limited Scope Representation – Attorney Resources

Arkansas Resources

Arkansas Limited Scope Toolkit for Attorneys (coming soon)
Sample Notice of Limited Scope Representation – Family Law
Sample Notice of Limited Scope Representation – Other Civil
Sample Notice of Completion of Limited Scope Representation

National Resources

American Bar Association Resource Center on Unbundling

The Commission is working toward seeking additional changes to Arkansas Rules of Civil Procedure to explicitly authorize the practice of ghostwriting and to permit attorneys who give proper notice of a limited scope arrangement in a court proceeding to be automatically relieved as counsel of record once the attorney has completed the limited scope representation. Drafts of those rules can be found here.

Resources for attorneys, including a toolkit, forms, CLE training, and a client referral network are under development and will be made available as they are developed.

Tyson Executive, District Judge, to Lead Justice Commission

The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission has elected Tyson Foods Senior Vice President for Human Resource Operations Rod Nagel as its Chairperson and reelected Lincoln County District Judge Vic Harper at its Vice Chairperson. Officer elections took place at the Commission’s October 2015 quarterly meeting.

Nagel is the first non-attorney and business community leader to serve in a leadership capacity on the Commission. He succeeds retired UALR Bowen School of Law Dean Emeritus Chuck Goldner, who chaired the Commission from 2004 to 2010 and again in 2015. Retired Arkansas Supreme Court Associate Justice Annabelle Imber Tuck has also previously chaired the Commission, serving in that role from 2010 through 2014.

“Access to justice is core American value, but one that we are not living up to as a society or as a state,” said Nagel. A 2011 Commission study conducted in partnership with the Clinton School of Public Service indicates that as many as 95% of family law, consumer, and housing cases have at least one unrepresented person. “This is a problem that requires leadership from all sectors if we are to address it in any meaningful way.”

According to Commission Executive Director, Amy Johnson, the Commission’s efforts focus on increasing the ability of Arkansans to access the court system so that they can solve problems that cause and perpetuate poverty. Among those who often need help are domestic violence victims, children with special needs, and veterans readjusting to civilian life.

District Judge Vic Harper, who has served on the Commission since 2014, was reelected to a second term as Vice Chair of the Commission.

The Commission has also announced one reappointment and three new appointments. Andrea Walker, Managing Helpline Attorney for Jonesboro-based Legal Aid of Arkansas, has been reappointed to a second three-year term on the Commission. New appointments include University of Arkansas School of Law Professor Tiffany Murphy of Fayetteville, Circuit Judge Thomas Smith of Bentonville, and Circuit Judge Teresa French of McGehee.

Arkansas Supreme Court Solicits Comments on Proposed Unbundling Rules

The Arkansas Supreme Court has issued an order soliciting comments from the bar and public regarding proposed changes to Arkansas Rule of Professional Conduct that would provide guidance for attorneys who wish to provide limited scope representation. Also known as “unbundled” or “a la carte” legal services, limited scope representation offers an affordable alternative to clients who cannot afford traditional full-service representation, opens up new business opportunities for lawyers, and facilitates greater efficiency in the court system.

Arkansas rules already permit limited scope representation; the rules changes simply offer more clarity for lawyers who choose to engage in this form of practice. The revisions include the addition of language regarding when a client’s informed consent has to be in writing, as well as language clarifying an attorney’s communication responsibilities when the opposing party is represented by a limited scope attorney.

The order was issued in response to a petition that the Arkansas Bar Association filed requesting the changes. “It is the Petitioners’ belief that the rule changes proposed herein will equip Arkansas attorneys to adapt to new market realities posed by the DIY movement and help address the overwhelming unmet need among persons of limited and modest means,” the petition states. “As a result, members of the Arkansas public who are bypassing lawyers altogether can have meaningful access to the counsel and advice of skilled advocates at prices that are affordable and that compensate attorneys for their time and expertise.”

Comments should be submitted in writing and addressed to Stacey Pectol, Clerk of the Arkansas Supreme, Court, Attn: Code of Professional Conduct, Justice Building, 625 Marshall Street, Little Rock, Arkansas 72201. The deadline for submitting comments is May 1, 2016.

Supreme Court Adopts Rule for Unclaimed and Unidentifiable Trust Account Funds

The Arkansas Supreme Court has adopted changes to Arkansas Rule of Professional Conduct 1.15 to lay out a mechanism by which attorneys or estates of deceased attorneys can deal with unclaimed or unidentifiable funds in client trust accounts. The opinion, issued November 5, also moved provisions of the rule that deal with bank compliance and interest rate comparability to an administrative order.

The new provision addresses situations where an attorney, law firm, or estate of a deceased attorney (1) winds up in possession of client or third party funds and the client or third party cannot be located, despite diligent efforts to locate the rightful owner; or (2) is in possession of funds in a client trust account that cannot be traced back to a particular client.

The Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation, which administers the IOLTA program, has updated its Guidebook for Attorneys and Financial Institutions to include guidance for compliance with the new rule and has adopted forms for attorneys to use to report and remit such funds to the Foundation and to return the funds to the rightful owner if a claim for the funds is made.

The Arkansas rule change addresses these scenarios by providing a simple process for attorneys to dispose of unclaimed and unidentifiable funds consistent with applicable ethical obligations, while generating additional revenue for the IOLTA Program of the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation, which will use the funds to make grants supporting the provision of free civil legal aid to the poor.

‘Justice Gap’ Topic of Joint Judiciary Hearing at Supreme Court

Arkansans who face criminal prosecution but can’t afford a lawyer have a constitutional right to have an attorney appointed to represent them in court. No such right exists for victims of domestic violence, veterans denied military benefits, children in need of special education, and others who experience civil legal problems. For those individuals, legal aid is often the only source of help.

More than 746,000 Arkansans are eligible for legal aid, yet there are only 50 legal aid attorneys in the state. “You could fill Verizon Arena beyond capacity and ask everyone who has a legal problem to come forward,” said Lee Richardson, Executive Director of Legal Aid of Arkansas. “Then provide one attorney to handle all the issues that come up. That is the scale of what we’re trying to deal with.”

In what is believed to be a first, members of the Joint Judiciary Committee of the Arkansas General Assembly will meet at the Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Building on Tuesday, October 27, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. to hear testimony from the directors of the state’s two legal aid programs—the Center for Arkansas Legal Services and Legal Aid of Arkansas—about the challenges their programs face in trying to meet the overwhelming demand for civil legal help.

Representatives of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission will also testify about the growing number of Arkansans who are representing themselves in court and the diminishing number of attorneys who live and work in rural areas of the state.

The Joint Judiciary hearing is one of a series of events happening during National Pro Bono Week, October 25-31, to highlight the need for legal aid and recognize the efforts of attorneys across the state who volunteer their time to represent Arkansans who cannot afford legal representation.