#GivingTuesday for Accessible Legal Services

Accessible Legal Services was formed one year ago as a creative way to cater to lower to middle class clients in order to bridge the gap in legal services. Accessible Legal Services is the only fully functioning nonprofit law firm in operation in the State of Arkansas, and by providing access to justice and education, we improve our clients’ quality of life and value to the community.

Accessible Legal Services is committed to providing relief to a huge segment of the population in Arkansas who cannot afford a full-priced attorney, but who do not qualify for free legal assistance. Arkansas is seeing a dramatic increase in the number of litigants without legal representation. While the need for affordable legal services continues to increase, the resources available to provide those services are shrinking. There has been much discussion about the disappearing middle class and the plight of the working class. The average Arkansan has little or no retirement or personal savings, and if a legal problem arises, many Arkansans are unable to afford an attorney. Many people in Arkansas find themselves in situations where they are forced to choose between paying their bills or paying for an attorney.

Our nonprofit handles client claims on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the client’s household size and income. By indexing our hourly rate to a client’s income, Accessible Legal Services is doing something similar to what economists call “price discrimination,” which is charging different prices to different groups based on their ability to pay. Accessible Legal Services’ model is more finely tuned, and more responsive to their client’s needs. Each step up the income ladder, people who can pay more subsidize those who cannot. As a result, we are attempting to level a playing field that has been notoriously uneven for years, serving a constituency, the modest means middle class, that often feels itself forgotten between attempts to cater to the rich and aid the poor.

The second aspect of our program is to provide the skills necessary to get out of poverty to a segment of our community that has never received those skills, whether it is generational poverty or situational poverty. We teach Life Skills and Getting Ahead classes in the Garland County Detention Center and in inpatient drug treatment places around Hot Springs. Regarding the Life Skills classes, we combine instruction in applied skills training, basic academics, violence reduction, and the acquisition of moral values and life skills needed for inmates to successfully reintegrate into society. In the Getting Ahead classes, we utilize a prisoner reentry model. These classes reduce recidivism by building resources, accountability, and collaboration throughout the community.

Most recently, we have added a third aspect to our program, which includes low bono immigration legal services. Since there are so few immigration attorneys that practice in, and around Hot Springs, those attorneys charge exorbitant fees for their immigration related services. These fees are being waged against a segment of the population that has no way of paying them. As such, Accessible Legal Services has bridged that gap by offering our services to that segment of the population, again on a case-by-case basis, dependent on household size and income. The Court and judicial system can be incredibly difficult to understand and navigate, particularly for immigrants.

Because we are engaged in three different programs in our community, the cost of those programs can become quite expensive to operate. Therefore, we are requesting assistance from you to assist us in these costs.

Bridging the Justice Gap

Most individuals cannot afford the outlandish rates of legal services today; consequently, low-income Americans are left without any reprieve or solutions in a variety of legal arenas. Unless these individuals are in a criminal case (or they’re one of the few that qualifies and is accepted for legal aid work), they do not have access to legal services, and justice is not met.

Accessible Legal Services handles many different types of cases, including immigration, expungement/pardons, as well as divorce, custody and support cases. Accessible Legal Services hopes to address these underserved populations, bridging the justice gap and providing affordable, low bono legal services to low to moderate income individuals and families.

The firm’s unusual pricing system provides an edge. By indexing its hourly rate to clients’ incomes, Accessible Legal Services is doing something similar to what economists call “price discrimination”—charging different prices to different groups based on their willingness to pay.  Customers’ ability to pay rarely figures in directly when firms price discriminate: A restaurant may offer a price for seniors based on the assumption that seniors have less disposable income, but you’re out of luck if you’re a middle-aged person on a senior citizen’s budget. Accessible Legal Services’ model is more finely tuned, and more responsive to people’s needs. Each step up the income ladder, people who can pay more subsidize those who can’t.

Charging everyone ensures that all clients have skin in the game. Legal aid firms sometimes have issues with people draining out a bunch of time and staff on less-than-pressing problems. Charging fees, in turn, keeps everybody accountable: It keeps us accountable to the client because they’re paying us—and it keeps them accountable because we have made the model work by keeping costs low—including the attorney’s salaries.

For more information about Accessible Legal Services to make employment and volunteer inquiries, or to donate, please call us at (501) 620-4242, email us at angela@angelaecholslaw.com.  Thank you for all of your generous support!

 

Why Should You Create a Will?

Drafting a will isn’t something that people look forward to doing – after all, planning for your own mortality isn’t anyone’s idea of recreation. The reality, though, is that having your affairs in order can make life much lighter. Putting your basics down on paper can be a huge help to your family.

The process of creating a will should not be that complicated, but I recommend that people have a professional adviser assist them with doing their will.  For most people, preparing a will and putting their estate plan together usually involves a visit to a lawyer.

 

What people have to recognize is that a will is a very important document, but a will is just one part of the planning process. What you’re really trying to do is to get your affairs in order, but you have to look at your total plan. You have to look at what your assets are, and what they’re likely to be in the future. You have to look at what your family situation is. Everybody’s situation is unique, but you’re trying to get your affairs in order so that when you pass away, everything will be looked after with a minimum of fuss. For most people, a will is the largest part of that plan.

But there are a lot of common things that people place in their will. They have properties in joint tenancy with their spouse and it will pass automatically to that person. They’ll have life insurance that’ll go automatically to a named beneficiary. There’s a lot of other things that you want to d,o and the process of putting your will together is usually the time that you want to review all of those things, to make sure you’re not leaving your life insurance to your ex-spouse, things like that.

One of the main things to do in a will is appoint an executor who then has legal authority from the moment of death to look after your estate.  One of the first things that an executor is instructed to do – gather up the estate assets, but also to pay all the debts, the funeral, testamentary expenses.

 

I’m always a fan of people having a professional adviser to assist them and the reason for that is that the process usually involves a complete review of your own situation, discussion of the law and how it applies to your situation and then what it is you want to do and putting it into effect. It’s actually a fairly complex area of the law and I’ve seen a lot of tragedies and huge bills later on…

With any additional questions about creating a will, contact us at Accessible Legal Services at 501-620-4242.