#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!

 

How To Expunge An Arrest Record

If you are like many people in Arkansas who have a RAP sheet, you have wondered how to expunge an arrest record.

 

Fortunately, many people who have arrest records are eligible to expunge them—it is just a matter of knowing what to do, which forms to file, and where to file the petition. For that reason, most people choose to work with an expungement attorney who understands the law and how it applies in different cases.

Expungement is not a simple process, and many people choose to have an attorney walk them through the process to ensure that they get the best possible outcome.

The first thing you need to expunge your arrests is obtain your complete criminal history. You can get a copy of your rap sheet (that stands for record of arrests and prosecutions) from the agency that arrested you, or you can obtain a copy from ACIC.

Once your lawyer has reviewed your record, she will determine whether you are eligible for expungement or criminal record sealing. If you are eligible, she’ll prepare and file all the documents necessary to clear your name.

What if the Court Won’t Let You Expunge Your Arrest Record?

The court does not have to grant your request to expunge or seal your criminal record. If the state’s attorney objects to your expungement or sealing, your lawyer will be able to argue your case in front of a judge.

What Else Can You Expunge (Besides an Arrest Record)?

In some cases, if you were found guilty of a crime and placed on court supervision, and you successfully completed the term of supervision (and maintained a clean criminal record since then), you could be eligible for expungement or sealing.

Do You Need to Talk to an Attorney About How to Expunge Your Arrest Record?

If you’re thinking about expunging your arrest record, we may be able to help you.

Call Accessible Legal Services at 501-620-4242 for a free case review today. We will look at your situation and start developing a strategy that gets you the best possible outcome.

What is the Criminal Expungment Process?

For many people, the process of expunging or sealing a criminal record is a complicated one—but it does not have to be that way. Working with an expungement attorney from the moment you decide to clear your criminal record can make things simpler (and save you time).

Before you can petition the court to clear your criminal record, you will need a complete copy of that record. You can get your own criminal record by contacting the agency where you were processed, or you can ask request your criminal record from Arkansas Crime Information Center (ACIC).

Once you have your entire criminal record, you can determine whether you are eligible to have your criminal record sealed or expunged. If you are not, you could still be eligible for a pardon through the Governor’s office.

When your attorney determines that you are eligible for expungement, she will file the appropriate petition with the court, and that is the first step in clearing your name and getting the fresh start you deserve.

In some cases, the state’s attorney—the lawyer that represents the State’s best interests in criminal cases—will object to an expungement. If that happens in your case, you may be entitled to a hearing where you can explain your side of the story. Your lawyer can argue on your behalf if the state objects to your petition.

If the judge in your case approves your expungement, the court will order the law enforcement agencies that have your criminal records to seal them.

If you need to talk to an attorney about clearing your name so you can move forward and leave the past behind, call us right away at 501-620-4242 for a free case evaluation. We will look at your record and explain your options, and then we will develop a strategy that gets you the best possible outcome.

Modifying Child Support

For Arkansas parents who are required to pay child support, the laws can be complex and difficult to understand. If a non-custodial parent has a change in their financial situation, such as a new job, they may have to pay more or be allowed to pay less child support.

If a non-custodial parent changes jobs and is paid less, they will have to petition the court to get the child support order changed. Before the modification request is approved, however, the court will consider a variety of factors to determine if the change in the amount of child support is warranted. For example, the non-custodial parent must have a substantial change in circumstances before the modification is approved. Two parents can also make an agreement out of court as long as the new amount of support is within the state’s child support guidelines.

It is important that non-custodial parents who can suddenly no longer afford their child support payments act as quickly as possible. This is because child support modifications are not retroactive, and the parent will still be held responsible for any back child support. Non-custodial parents must file a motion with the court that issued the original order. If parents reach an agreement outside of court, the agreement must be put in writing and be signed by a judge.

When parents cannot come to an agreement regarding child support outside of court, a family law attorney may assist with filing a modification request in court. The lawyer may also help gather financial evidence to back the request.  If you need this type of assistance, call Accessible Legal Services at 501-620-4242.

What Indicators Lead to Divorce?

Believe it or not, divorce is considered to be a major health problem. While doctors can predict the risk for major health issues such as diabetes, cancer and heart attack, they now are trying to predict the risk for divorce which accounts for 50 percent of U.S. marriages.

The breakdown of a marriage can play havoc on one’s emotional and physical health. People in troubled relationships are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression and high blood pressure. Historically, the medical profession has had little advice for preventing divorce but now there is plenty of new research out that helps scientists discern what qualities lead to a lasting marriage or a divorce. For instance, eye-rolling after a spouse’s comment can be a strong indicator for divorce whereas, marriages with traditional gender roles are indicative of long-lasting marriages.

Some of the findings, while they may seem obvious, run counter to the way many marital counselors work, and thus, could force counselors to rethink their whole approach to couple’s therapy.

John Gottman, a psychology professor at the University of Washington and a leading divorce-prediction researcher (www.gottman.com), has videotaped thousands of couples and codes positive and negative facial expressions, body language and comments. He and his colleagues have calculated that successful marriages have at least a five-to-one ratio of positive to negative interactions. When the ratio drops, the marriage becomes high risk for divorce.

While it is not logistically possible in real life to tally the positive and negative displays, therapists say it’s important to ramp up the positives after a negative occurs so the ratio doesn’t dip to dangerous levels. The strongest predictors of divorce are four negative qualities: contempt, criticism, defensiveness and stonewalling. And couples should be aware of subtle negative facial expressions.

Half of all marriages end in the first seven years but a study in Family Process claims that another risky time for divorce is midlife. The study followed 79 Bloomington, Ind., couples that had been married for an average of five years. Four years after the research started, 9% had divorced and by the end of the 14-year study, 22 couples, or 28% had divorced.

It has been shown that “active listening,” a traditional counseling method, doesn’t work because the spouse would just repeat the complaint and say, “I hear what you’re saying.” Happily married couples don’t respond that way. They take a gentler approach to starting a conversation and if an argument escalates, they know how to end it and repair the damage.

Traditional counseling will also have a couple give up their idealized view of relationships and romance but this has been shown to be the contrary: People with the highest expectations for marriage have the highest quality marriages.

Another predictor of divorce has to do with the influence the wife has on the decision making process. In marriages at high risk for divorce, the wife has little to no influence over her husband.

Age can be another risk factor. There is a divorce risk for women who marry younger men but men can marry younger women without any risk factor.

Another huge factor has to do with having children. Studies show that marital satisfaction drops by 70% in the first few years of having a child but later helps the couple to stay married.

And finally, some marital arguments can’t be solved. One study interviewed a couple and came back four years later to find that the couple was still arguing about the same problems in exactly the same way. This has led to what is called “acceptance” therapy which encourages couples to accept the minor weaknesses of their partners instead of trying to change them.

No one wants to go through a divorce, however if you are facing that situation, Accessible Legal Services can help.  Call 501-620-4242.

Source: Can Eye-Rolling Ruin a Marriage? Researches Study Divorce Risk, By Tara Parker-Pope, The Wall Street Journal

Record Expungement and Financial Aid

Many individuals in our nation aspire to earn a college degree and pursue higher education as a starting point towards a high paying and successful career.  In 1998, Congress enacted and amended the Higher Education Act (HEA), which prevented thousands of would-be college students from receiving federal financial assistance if they had a drug related conviction.  Since the law was enacted, one in every four hundred students who apply to receive financial aid will be denied based on a prior drug related conviction.

Those who are affected by this unfortunate reality will often never have the opportunity to receive federal financial aid unless they expunge the prior offense from their record.

How can you tell if your conviction will affect your ability to obtain financial aid?  The Federal Student Aid department has a FAFSA Drug Conviction Worksheet which will let you determine whether you will have a problem obtaining financial aid.

For those who are convicted of a drug related crime, you are eligible to expunge your record.  At Accessible Legal Service, Inc., we have a wealth of experience working with potential students that need to seal or expunge their past offenses in order to get financial assistance.  If you need to speak to an attorney about expunging your criminal record, please contact us at 501-620-4242.