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.

Inaugural Fendler Fellows Selected for Commission Service

The UALR William H. Bowen School of Law and Professor Frances Fendler announced the appointment of two law students who will serve as inaugural Fendler Fellows, according to the most recent edition of the Bowen Alumni Connection newslettter. Lindsey Kuehn and Furonda Brasfield will each serve a semester for the coming 2013-14 year.

The Oscar and Patricia Fendler Access to Justice Fellowship, awarded to a law student for each academic semester, is supported by the Oscar and Patricia Fendler Endowment for the Advancement of Ethics and Professionalism established at UALR by Professor Fendler and her brother, Tilden P. Wright III.

Arkansas Access to Justice Commission Awarded ABA Innovation Grant

The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission has received a grant from the American Bar Association’s Access to Justice Commission Expansion Project to promote and support innovation in the delivery of civil legal aid, the ABA announced last month. The grant was awarded for the development of a pro se document assembly form for an Arkansas Uncontested Divorce with Children packet utilizing HotDocs and A2J Author software, as well as the completion of a series of pilot clinics where attorneys will provide limited scope representation to pro se litigants in preparing uncontested divorce filings using the document assembly form.

The goal of the project is to increase awareness of and support for the concept of limited scope representation–a concept that is permitted under the Arkansas Rules of Professional Conduct, and which the American Bar Association has formally endorsed.  Although the concept itself is not new, few Arkansas attorneys are aware of the opportunities that this model presents.

“We believe that this will be a ‘win-win’ proposition for Arkansas: attorneys will be able to tap into a previously unprofitable market to generate revenue, and Arkansans who would otherwise be unable or unwilling to hire an attorney will now have that option,” said Amy Johnson, Executive Director of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission.

The ABA Access to Justice Commission Expansion Project is funded by the Public Welfare Foundation and the Kresge Foundation. It is administered by the ABA Resource Center for Access to Justice Initiatives. The purpose of the project is to expand the number of state access to justice commissions, strengthen existing commissions, and promote innovative initiatives by commissions.

Clinton School Students to Partner with Commission for Economic Benefit Study

A team of four Clinton School of Public Services will be partnering with the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission during the 2013-02014 academic year to perform a study on the economic benefits of civil legal aid, according to a press release issued by the school earlier this week. Rebekah Tucci (Lakeland, Fla.), Paola Cavallari (Termoli, Italy), Matt Devlin (Silver Spring, Md.), and Hannah Michow-Proffitt (Annapolis, Md.), will conduct the study, which the Commission will use to educate policymakers and funders regarding how access to civil legal services can augment public and private efforts to provide low-income Arkansans with access to healthcare, affordable housing, education, economic security and family stability.

“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 will help us make the case that legal aid is a good investment.”

“These projects are a wonderful opportunity for our students to practice the skills they are developing at the Clinton School,” said Marie Lindquist, director of field service education. “We are appreciative of our community partners throughout Arkansas who are involved in outstanding public service work and mentor our students in that work.” The study will build on findings from a previous Clinton School field project that focused on a comprehensive legal needs assessment of the low-income community, according to Johnson.

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.”

Commissioner Waddell Awarded Equal Justice Distinguished Service Award

Arkansas Access to Justice Commission member Bill Waddell is the 2013 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 12, 2013 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.

Mr. Waddell is a partner with Friday, Eldredge & Clark, where he leads the firm’s Commercial Litigation and Regulation Practice Group. Drawing from his leadership and experience with the practice group and his dedication to pro bono service, Mr. Waddell has committed to providing two attorneys from his practice group to lend their legal expertise twice monthly in the town of Clarendon where the Mid-Delta Medical-Legal Partnership holds a free legal clinic for area residents seeking legal assistance. He is also a member of the Volunteer Organization for the Center for Arkansas Legal Services (VOCALS) and the Equal Access to Justice Panel (EAJP). In the past year alone, he has performed over 120 hours of pro bono service for individual clients—this in addition to the outreach work he has put into the Clarendon MLP.

Over the course of his career, Mr. Waddell has handled over 300 pro bono adoption cases for Bethany Christian Services of Arkansas, which honored him in October 2012 with a service award during the 10th Annual Bethany Golf Classic. He has also assisted with several private pro bono adoptions, charging only court costs. In February 2013, Mr. Waddell was honored with the Living Legend Award from Philander Smith College for his social justice work.

Deeply committed to his faith and his church, Mr. Waddell serves as legal counsel to the Arkansas United Methodist Church’s clergy and is presently the national legal advisor to the United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops. He has further served his church as Chancellor to the Arkansas Conference of UMC, as the Volunteers in Mission Coordinator, and currently teaches a young adults class at St. James UMC in Little Rock.

Since his appointment to the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission in 2008 by bar president Rosalind Mouser, Mr. Waddell has led a number of statewide efforts to expand access to justice. He took a leadership role in developing and implementing the first statewide campaign to raise significant private funds for legal aid. His days of devoted work on this project made it a major success including, for the first time, major corporate gifts of over $100,000 to legal aid.

But Mr. Waddell’s efforts to aid the administration of justice did not stop with the fund development campaign alone. He recognized the need to have an organization which could accept and distribute the funds raised to the two legal aid organizations in Arkansas. The Commission itself, being a creature of the Arkansas Supreme Court, could not function in that capacity. He thus set about preparing organizational documents to create The Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation, Inc. and securing nonprofit status for the organization from the IRS. Mr. Waddell and other members of his firm donated many hours pro bono to this effort. The end result is a permanent operational arm of the Commission that can accept and distribute funds in such a way as to positively impact the access to justice for all Arkansans.

Bill is a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and has served as chair of the Financial Services Committee and the Legal Services Committee of the Arkansas Bar Association. He is currently a commissioner of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission and is chair of the commission’s Pro Bono Committee. He is also the president of the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation. He recently received the 2013 Living Legend Award from Philander Smith College for his social justice work.