Can Rural States Reverse the Exodus of Lawyers?

Dec 27, 2016 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Live in a small town and need the services of a lawyer? You may be out of luck. According to a recent report from NET News, Nebraska’s rural areas are facing a critical shortfall of young attorneys. In an effort to counter this troubling trend, several of the state’s colleges and universities have joined forces to recruit more country lawyers. Here’s a closer look at the initiative, along with several others underway aimed at ensuring that all people throughout the US have access to legal representation.

Increasing Opportunities

The Rural Law Opportunities Program (RLOP) seeks to increase the numbers of lawyers throughout Nebraska by recruiting directly at the high-school level. Under the program, three Nebraska colleges will offer a total of 15 scholarships to high-school grads who -- as long as they maintain a GPA of 3.5 or higher -- are guaranteed acceptance to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Law with the condition that they’ll practice in a rural area.

Said Lyle Koenig, co-chair of the Nebraska Bar Association’s Rural Practice Initiative, “If you start with kids that come from the country in the first place, there is a very good chance they will come back to the country to practice law,” Koenig said.

ther Solutions Underway

While the data is limited regarding just how widespread the issue is, NET News reports that some Nebraska counties have just one lawyer, the county prosecutor. And Nebraska is not alone in strategizing to reverse the problem through the prioritization of rural support programs. Other initiatives, including scholarship programs and summer internships, are underway in Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and other states.

All of which begs the question: Why is it so important? Not only is it more costly to pay to transport legal experts when the need arises, but rural residents often end up at a serious legal disadvantage -- particularly in cases where the otherwise has more legal weight behind it, such as a corporate or government interest.

And the issue is not limited to the legal sector. Rural areas are facing shortages of professionals ranging from doctors and dentists to nurses and farmers. The good news? For those who see the joy in small town life, the professional opportunities are many.


Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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