Friday Firm lawyer receives NLADA award for innovation, Pro Bono

June 9-15, 2014

Friday Firm lawyer receives NLADA award for innovation, Pro Bono

A lawyer and self-taught programmer who works for legal aid and Arkansas’s largest law firm are among the recipients of awards recently announced by the National Legal Aid & Defender Association.

Arkansas Legal Services Partnership Director Vincent Morris received NLADA’s 2014 Innovations in Equal Justice Award at a May 1 award ceremony in Portland, Oregon. More than 400 guests attended, including American Bar Association President Charles Silkenat and Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Balmer. Morris received the award in recognition of his outstanding career contributions to creativity and innovation in the delivery of legal services to poor people.

In presenting the award, NLADA Vice President of Civil Legal Services Don Saunders highlighted a variety of Morris’s achievements, including the creation of a highly-trafficked legal resource website, www.arlegalservices.org, and the development of more than 170 automated legal resources for use by low-income Arkansans and the legal advocates who help them.

Morris, who started an eight-week internship with the Center for Arkansas Legal Services in 2003 while a law student, is now the director of the statewide coordinating unit for the state’s two civil legal aid programs: the Center for Arkansas Legal Services and Legal Aid of Arkansas. During his 11-year tenure, Morris has spearheaded more than 15 “justice technology” projects designed to help low-income Arkansas residents navigate serious civil legal problems that threaten their safety, health, and self-sufficiency.

“Vince’s work represents the future of the legal profession,” said retired Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Annabelle Imber Tuck. “As our society relies more on technology and less on lawyers, it is incumbent upon us to find ways to bridge that gap and get competent legal help to those who need it, especially when nearly half of our state’s residents can’t afford lawyers. Vince has singlehandedly made this happen in the Arkansas legal aid community.”

NLADA has also announced that Little Rock-based law firm Friday, Eldredge & Clark is one of 25 law firms nationally to receive the prestigious Beacon of Justice Award. The Friday Firm will be receiving the award in recognition of its pioneering volunteer work with Legal Aid of Arkansas and an Arkansas Delta-based medical-legal partnership.

In 2012, the firm’s Commercial Litigation Practice Group began traveling to Clarendon, Arkansas, on the third Thursday of every month to meet with patients at Mid-Delta Health Systems. Since that time, they have “adopted” the clinic and now send a team of attorneys to meet with clinic patients twice a month to provide free legal assistance for issues ranging from family law to consumer matters. Their work has expanded to include another Legal Aid of Arkansas medical-legal partnership in another poor, rural area of the state: Lee County Cooperative Clinic in Marianna, Ark.

“The Friday Firm’s commitment to these projects has proven to be an innovative, high-impact way to help these rural clinics address underlying social issues that affect health outcomes of their patients,” said Arkansas Access to Justice Commission Executive Director Amy Johnson. The firm’s attorneys volunteered more than 300 hours in 2013 on this project alone, said Johnson. In total, Friday Firm attorneys performed a total of more than 1,700 hours of pro bono services in 2013.

At least two of the Friday Firm’s clients have supported these efforts, either by making financial contributions to the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation or by sponsoring and providing employee support for pro bono events.

Harry Light — a Friday Firm lawyer who volunteers for the medical-legal partnership project — underscored the personal impact that this project has had on him: “I am humbled each time I visit with legal aid clients in the Delta and am fortified by the strength and courage they exhibit in meeting life’s basic challenges with limited means. To be able to assist them in some small way is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding privileges of being an Arkansas lawyer.”

Shep Russell, the managing partner at the Friday firm, noted how the firm’s young lawyers are drawn to access to justice issues:  “Our younger lawyers are busy establishing their practices, but they make time for pro bono work. It fulfills their desire to use their skills to improve the community, whether it be writing simple wills and powers of attorney for the parents of children who are patients at Arkansas Children’s Hospital or helping a grandmother become the legal guardian of her grandchildren.” He added, “We are humbled that the NLADA has recognized our firm for the pro bono work that our lawyers did because they wanted to make a difference.”

NLADA annually sponsors 13 awards honoring the distinguished men, women, firms and organizations whose outstanding service and achievements advance the cause of equal access to justice. Past awardees have included Brad Smith of Microsoft; Rick Cotton of NBC Universal; Legal Services Corporation Technology; Hillary Rodham Clinton, Legal Services Advocate and First Lady; New York Times; Daily Record; Hon. Janet Reno, Former United States Attorney General; Brooklyn (NY) Bar Association; State Bar of California; and many others advancing the cause of equal access to justice. Award winners will be formally honored at the NLADA Exemplar Award Dinner on Thursday, June 26, 2014, at The Mayflower Renaissance Hotel in Washington D.C.

Legal Aid of Arkansas and the Center for Arkansas Legal Services are nonprofit organizations that provide free legal services to low-income Arkansans with civil legal problems, including foreclosure, consumer issues, housing, help for victims of domestic abuse, and representation in public benefits. With 17 offices staffed by more than 50 attorneys throughout the state, plus a volunteer pool of more than 1,500 attorneys, legal aid services benefited close to 30,000 low-income people and the elderly with their critical legal needs in 2013. However, 737,852 people in Arkansas live at or below 125 percent of the poverty line, and thousands of those Arkansans in need were turned away due to lack of resources. Learn more at www.arlegalservices.org | www.arkansasjustice.org.

As Arkansas’s largest law firm, Friday, Eldredge & Clark serves a diverse clientele across Arkansas and throughout the United States. The firm’s lawyers work closely, whether as local counsel or regional counsel, with some of the finest firms in America.  The firm is a member of the Southern Law Network, comprising many of the leading law firms with offices in 13 states.