The Rural Practice Incubator Project Committee at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law has selected its 2020 cohort. Bowen graduates Cynthia Aikman and Abraham “Sam” Keefer will benefit from the project’s training, support, and resources for the next 18 months as they build their own small-town law practices.
Cynthia Aikman plans to practice in Bluffton, Arkansas, where she grew up and her family has lived for eight generations. Aikman owns a home there and spent weekends there during law school. She is active in the community and is working to retain and expand community services.
Aikman graduated from Bowen in 2018 and passed the Arkansas Bar Exam in 2019. During her last semester at Bowen, she volunteered over 200 hours as a Rule XV law clerk for the Center for Arkansas Legal Services. After she passed the baar exam, Aikman interned for 14 months with Robert Tellez at the Tellez Law Firm in North Little Rock, representing the firm’s clients in court while also representing Yell County clients pro-bono with the firm’s assistance. During that time, she developed her rural practice plan, gained courtroom experience, and improved the skills that would best benefit her community.
The law is Aikman’s second career. She retired from the U.S. Army at the rank of Major. After her retirement, she chose to go to law school, in part, because she was frustrated by the lack of services and resources available to her rural community. Her time at Bowen widened her perspective on the critical need for access to justice in her community.
“The rural, impoverished, and uneducated are discriminated against in nearly every aspect of their lives,” she said. “I want to assist my community, but I also want to educate its members in ways they can help themselves.”
Aikman will focus her practice on the Fourche Valley, a 32-mile area with few amenities, no nearby facilities, no cell service, and no attorneys. The closest law offices are 30-60 miles away.
Aikman will open her own solo practice in Bluffton, and plans to base it on a legal aid model. If clients cannot pay for services, they will receive free or discounted assistance. She also plans to hold free legal clinics in her community. She has already held three such clinics since April 2019.
Abraham “Sam” Keefer plans to practice in Sharp County, Arkansas, focusing primarily on Cave City and Ash Flat. He grew up in Poughkeepsie, Arkansas, where he lives on his family’s farm.
Cave City does not currently have an attorney to serve its approximately 2,000 residents. Ash Flat has an aging attorney population, and local attorneys have already welcomed Keefer into the community.
“I’ve spoken to local attorneys,” Keefer said. “The consensus is that a younger attorney is greatly needed in this area.”
Keefer, who served in the Marine Corps from 2001-2006, graduated from Bowen in 2020 and passed the bar this summer. He’s not worried about starting a new firm immediately after law school. He sees his experience at Bowen as great training, having spent time clerking for busy firms and gaining mentors in both Little Rock and Independence County.
He also points to his training in law office management, his expected low overhead, and his situation on the family farm as reasons he believes his practice will be successful.
“My family and I are used to a student income and lifestyle. We’re committed to spending the next few years working to build a law practice.”
He is excited about working within the incubator program to receive additional training and support from coaches and mentors other than the network he has cultivated.
Keefer is passionate about the Sharp County area and his fellow residents.
“The citizens of Sharp County need the help,” Keefer said. “The law is something they generally avoid, not something they feel they can use for their own protection or benefit.”
The Rural Practice Incubator Project is part of Bowen’s commitment to its core values of access to justice, public service, and professionalism. According to the ABA’s most recent Profile of the Legal Profession, Arkansas has a ratio of 2.1 attorneys per 1,000 residents. Citizens in many rural counties have little to no access to legal representation.
“We are excited to welcome Ms. Aikman and Mr. Keefer into the incubator,” said Theresa Beiner, dean of the law school. “They are passionate about the areas they call home and committed to helping their neighbors and fellow residents. We look forward to helping them achieve their goals.”