by Angelita Faller
After spending her spring break providing pro bono legal services to rural Arkansas residents, a recent graduate of the UA Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law is more committed than ever to providing legal help for state residents that have restricted access to lawyers.
Students from the William H. Bowen School of Law spent their spring break providing legal services on the road to rural communities in Arkansas. Abigail Brenneman, Andrew Rogers, Libby Nelson, and Lisa Roam took part in Legal Aid of Arkansas’s Spring Break on the Road to Justice program in March.
“This program definitely increased my awareness of the lack of access to legal services in rural areas of Arkansas and reinforced my decision to try to make my services accessible to folks in some of those underserved areas,” said Brenneman, 25, of Hot Springs.
In partnership with students from the University of Arkansas School of Law, they provided estate-planning services to elderly residents under the supervision of Legal Aid and volunteer attorneys.
“With the Road to Justice Program, we wanted the students to get practical experience as well as understand the importance and the need for pro bono service,” said Greneda Johnson, director of pro bono for Legal Aid. “The students helped ease the burden of 74 individuals by helping them to plan for their future and save their family from having to make difficult decisions in the event that they become incapacitated or after their gone.”
While traveling the state, the students volunteered in Flippin, Newport, Jonesboro, and Brockwell. The first day took the group to a wills clinic at Marion County Senior Activity Wellness Center, where they worked with 30 clients to produce 84 documents. Next, the students helped 24 people and drafted 73 documents in Newport and Jonesboro. On the third day, the students served 20 clients and created 50 documents in Brockwell.
“The key take away from my experience is that it is not an attorney’s job to tell a client what to do, even if they literally say, ‘Tell me what to do.’ Instead, It is the attorney’s job to explain to them, efficiently and effectively, the consequences and implications of the client’s various options and then allow them to make their choices,” Brenneman said.
Access to legal services is a problem for many Arkansans living in rural areas with low income. The Spring Break on the Road to Justice program is one of many initiatives by Legal Aid of Arkansas to address access-to-justice issues in Arkansas, which has the fewest attorneys per capita in the country with approximately one attorney for every 400 residents in the state.
Brenneman will take the bar exam in July and eventually wants to open her own law firm in Montgomery County. The skills she learned during her spring break experience has helped prepare her for the future.
“I decided to participate in the program because I wanted to gain practical knowledge about estate planning and client interviewing in general,” Brenneman said. “Most memorable to me, were the amazing people at Legal Aid of Arkansas. They were so patient and encouraging.”