#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.

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Traveling to the Country

It’s never a dull moment in the life of a nonprofit lawyer.  We tend to end up doing things on a daily basis that a typical attorney would never get even dream of doing!  I am helping a client start a new nonprofit.  When she scheduled the first board meeting, she asked me to attend; however, the board meeting was being held at her house.  Her house ended up being an hour away and was located 6 miles down a dirt road.

Once I finally arrived at her house, I found that her house was FILLED with taxidermied animals, and most of the animals were shot on her property.  It turned out to be a good board meeting, but those stuffed animals took me by surprise.  I must admit!