by Max Brantley
Hard times mean more people are unable to afford legal services. But hard times also mean a reduction in support for Legal Aid of Arkansas, a Jonesboro-based agency that provides legal assistance in civil cases for those unable to pay in 31 counties.
Offices and staff are going to be cut back and work reorganized to cope, Legal Aid of Arkansas has announced. Its release follows.
JONESBORO, Ark. — Facing steep funding cuts, Legal Aid of Arkansas has reorganized its service delivery system to continue to provide quality legal service to low income individuals and families in Arkansas.
A 14.9 percent federal funding cut to the Legal Services Corporation in 2012 and a four percent cut in 2011 equates to a loss of more than $300,000 for Legal Aid. The organization will likely face an additional 10 percent cut in 2013. Legal Services Corporation is Legal Aid’s largest funding source.
Adding to the problem, Arkansas’ State Administration of Justice Fund, Legal Aid’s second largest funding source, has recently decreased by 18 percent.
“Because of the reductions in funding, we are going to have to be more strategic about how we allocate our limited resources,” said Lee Richardson, Executive Director of Legal Aid.
Legal Aid already laid off three staff attorneys and three support staff in 2011 in anticipation of funding cuts. Four attorney positions, three paralegal positions and three support positions will be cut in 2012.
Legal Aid’s delivery system is also getting an overhaul. The new system is based on four substantive law workgroups, which will focus on domestic violence, consumer matters, housing issues and economic justice. Management will also be consolidated into four regions: Northwest, Ozark, Northeast and Delta.
The Mountain View office will be closed and Legal Aid management will look to relocate other offices to smaller physical plants. Donated space will be used to ensure continued local access to Legal Aid services.
These cuts come in the face of an economic downturn that has seen more and more people in need of legal assistance. Legal Aid closed more than 7,000 cases in 2011, and for every client the organization provided assistance, another client was turned away because a lack of resources.
“The cornerstone of fairness in this country is based on the idea that the most humble among us should be the peer of the most affluent when seeking justice,” Richardson said. “Unfortunately, this concept cannot be a reality unless both sides to an issue have legal counsel. Legal Aid is the only game in town for individuals with civil issues without resources to pay an attorney.”
Despite cuts, Legal Aid remains the place for low-income Arkansans to seek legal assistance.
In an effort to maximize scarce resources, Legal Aid has developed Medical Legal Partnerships with Arkansas Children’s Hospital and Walmart Corporate Legal Department and with Federally Qualified Health Clinics in Lee and Monroe County. Legal Aid also introduced the Justice for Arkansans AmeriCorps program, placing eight public interest attorneys throughout the state to tackle various civil legal issues.
“We will work tirelessly to develop new resources and partnerships to advance the cause of social justice,” Richardson said.
In addition to these new developments, Legal Aid continues its Equal Access to Justice and Arkansas Volunteer Lawyers for the Elderly Panels, which maintain more than 700 private attorneys who volunteer to represent clients referred by Legal Aid for free.
Legal Aid of Arkansas is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to low-income persons with civil legal problems in 31 counties from Benton County in Northwest Arkansas to Phillips County in the Mississippi River Delta. If you need legal advice or representation, call 100-9-LAW-AID (1800-952-9243) to apply for services. Visit www.arlegalaid.org to learn more about services and volunteer opportunities.