The access to justice gap is wide in Arkansas. Nearly one-third of Arkansans qualify for free legal services. Arkansas’s two pro bono law firms, Legal Aid of Arkansas and Center for Arkansas Legal Services, work diligently to address the gap in access to justice. However, a large portion of individuals who financially qualify for pro bono services, and individuals who do not financially qualify for pro bono services yet cannot afford an attorney, are left to navigate the complex legal system alone.
In April 2015, Legal Aid of Arkansas created a novel approach to help address these unmet legal needs. The Modest Means Panel was designed to assist low to moderate-income Arkansans find affordable legal assistance. The panel is not a traditional pro bono program; it may be colloquially referred to as a “low bono” project. The panel’s mission is to meet the overwhelming need for access to justice by referring qualified individuals, where pro bono assistance is not possible, to private attorneys who charge reduced rates.
Individuals are eligible for referral if their income is at or below 250% of the federal poverty level, and they must be able to pay for any services they receive. Potential referrals participate in a screening with the Legal Aid HelpLine to determine eligibility. Once eligibility has been established, the individual will be referred to a private attorney panel member for consultation. The determination regarding an attorney-client relationship is solely between the attorney and the referred client.
The panel not only benefits the referred client; the panel benefits the participating attorney and the court system. Attorney panel members have the opportunity to broaden their practice to potential clientele that otherwise would not have been able to afford legal representation. Attorneys will also gain exposure, experience, and generate income. This aspect is especially helpful to newer attorneys, as well as solo practitioners, particularly serving rural populations. Participating attorneys will also have access to Legal Aid of Arkansas’s resources. Additionally, participation is considered pro bono publico service per Arkansas Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 6.1. Finally, membership on the panel is free; there is no annual fee and only a $25 administrative fee per successful retainer to partially cover Legal Aid’s cost. The court system benefits from the panel as well. More litigants have representation, which positively impacts the court’s infrastructure.
If you would like more information concerning Legal Aid of Arkansas’s Modest Means Panel, please contact Stefanie Blahut at firstname.lastname@example.org.