Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Rural areas run short of lawyers, which disadvantages rural residents needing legal help

In some parts of rural America, lawyers are getting hard to find. That is especially true in the Great Plains, where population loss has thinned the ranks of attorneys, reports Grant Gerlock of NET News in Nebraska. "Eleven of Nebraska's 93 counties have no lawyers at all, not one in the entire county," he reports. "It's a symptom of the so-called brain drain in rural America. Young people often go away and don't come back, leaving small towns short of doctors, dentists, lawyers and even farmers."

Lawyer Tim Brouillette told Gerlock, "If somebody local gets charged with a crime simple as a minor in possession or maybe a minor theft or trespassing, they don't want the county to have to pay for indigent defense, so a lot of times they'll plea. And in some cases, you know, they may get jail time where they otherwise wouldn't. If they would have lived in the city, they would have had a public defender. Now, they have a record."

Lisa Davis, a rural law specialist at the University of California-Davis, "says when rural residents do get a lawyer, they often pay more, which puts them at a disadvantage, Gerlock reports, with a sound but from Pruitt: "Especially if, you know, the other side is the federal government, the state government or corporate interest or, you know, even a local school board."

Gerlock notes, "In numerous states with lawyer shortages, there are efforts to fix the problem. North Dakota, Iowa and others send law students to rural firms for summer internships. South Dakota offers a stipend to lawyers working in under-served areas. A new program in Nebraska recruits rural high schoolers to become rural lawyers."

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