By Jean Turner Carter, Amy Dunn Johnson, & Annabelle Imber Tuck | 33 U. ARK. LITTLE ROCK L. REV. 457 (2010).
Every year nearly half of the requests for legal assistance received by Arkansas’s two legal aid providers are turned away because there is not enough staff or pro bono volunteers to take these cases. Limited attorney resources, lack of predictable funding sources, and other challenges have created a gap in access to justice for many people. The justice gap is widened further because there are many hard-to-reach populations.
Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1 states that all attorneys should aspire to provide at least fifty hours of pro bono legal services each year. With over 8000 Arkansas-licensed attorneys who are ethically obligated to help meet the needs of over half a million low-income Arkansans, the bench and bar of this state should be doing its part to close the justice gap in our state.
In August of 2003, the Arkansas Bar Association petitioned the Arkansas Supreme Court to create a statewide access to justice commission, the purpose of which was to coordinate efforts to improve access to the civil justice system for low-income Arkansans who cannot afford attorneys to represent them in civil matters. Since its establishment on December 18, 2003, the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission has seen significant success on a number of funding and policy initiatives which are discussed in this article.
While the successes of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission and Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation represent important strides, this is largely overshadowed by the continuing and significant unmet need for civil legal help among low-income Arkansans. We still have a long way to go to ensure that all Arkansans have equal access to the civil justice system.