California’s Attorney Deserts: Access to Justice Implications of the Rural Lawyer Shortage

By: California Commission on Access to Justice Task Force. Published in July 2019.

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In this report, the California Commission on Access to Justice shows how residents per attorney (what they term as “attorney desert”) aligns with poverty rates by county and that attorneys in counties that are more rural are concentrated in the areas that are more populated. This means that to receive legal assistance, residents often travel to different counties.

The report also outlines why these rural deserts exist. The authors identify high student debt and a lack of interest in serving rural communities as the two largest reasons why attorneys do not choose to practice as often in rural areas. The report suggests financial incentives like South Dakota paying attorneys a stipend of more than $13,000 per year to work in rural communities for at least five years, tax credits, loan payment or forgiveness, lowering the “cut score” on the California Bar Exam, and law schools could prioritize admission of applicants from rural places.

Categories: Legal Aid Attorneys, Legal Aid Practitioners, News Media, Policymakers and Funders, Pro Bono, Researchers and Academics, Rural, Rural, State-Specific

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