FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — As the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect Arkansas, law students at the University of Arkansas help address legal needs by partnering with the Center for Arkansas Legal Services and Legal Aid of Arkansas.
Students Lexi Acello and Jaden Atkins are working with the Center for Arkansas Legal Services to help the agency come up with ways to assist with evictions and foreclosures because of the coronavirus.
“I decided that a global epidemic – and the corresponding rise in unemployment – only made this need more salient and volunteered to help,” Atkins said. “I was further inspired to help the Center for Arkansas Legal Services track eviction filings during COVID-19 because I fear for the lives and livelihoods of Arkansans.”
“My strongest urge is always to help,” Acello said. “A few weeks ago, when things in the U.S. began to advance, I felt lost because I was unsure of how I could be useful to others right now. Engaging in pro bono work allows me to contribute to organizations and groups on the ground doing the work to keep people safe. I want to help them as much as I can. Things are messy and uncertain right now, but we’re stronger together.”
Before the outbreak, six law students had planned to join Legal Aid of Arkansas for their annual “Spring Break on the Road to Justice” project.
Legal Aid asked students to help remotely after this year’s trip was cancelled, and Atkins, along with fellow law students Maisie Manuel, Michael Lester, Samantha Warren and Tony Jones, offered to help.
“Doing pro bono work in the midst of this global pandemic gives me a feeling of agency,” Atkins said. “I can’t control much during this crisis, but I can help in small ways with the response.”
As of March 31, approximately 50 law students had performed more than 1,300 hours of pro bono service during the 2019-20 academic year.
Doing the same work with social distancing has required some adjustments.
“Most times while doing pro bono you have some type of social interaction with either the client or supervising attorney,” Jones said. “Here, I never met the client nor knew their story, all the documents I needed were sent via email, and I drafted the required petitions and order and sent it back.”
Annie Smith, professor of law and the school’s Pro Bono and Community Engagement Director, continues to identify ways for law students to help with the legal needs that will emerge.
“Serving others is a professional responsibility, as well as a tremendous honor,” Smith said. “It can also be a helpful coping strategy during times of crisis. Now more than ever, I want students who are able to experience the satisfaction, learning and emotional benefits that can come from engaging in meaningful pro bono work and putting their legal education to good use.”