Rural America faces an increasingly dire access to justice crisis, which serves to exacerbate the already disproportionate share of social problems afflicting rural areas. One critical aspect of that crisis is the dearth of information and research regarding the extent of the problem and its impacts. This article begins to address that gap by providing surveys of rural access to justice in six geographically, demographically, and economically varied states: California, Georgia, Maine, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. In addition to providing insights about the distinct rural challenges confronting each of these states, the legal resources available, and existing policy responses, the article explores common themes that emerge through this multi-state lens, thus framing a richer, broader discussion of rural access to justice, with particular attention to the rural attorney shortage.
Written for a special issue on “Revitalizing Rural,” the article ultimately proposes a two-step approach toward closing the rural justice gap. First, although the information presented here provides a solid foundation, a critical need remains for ongoing careful and thoughtful study of the legal needs and lack of legal resources in rural areas. Second, the unique institutional, structural, and demographic characteristics of rural areas will require tailored, innovative, and data-driven solutions to match appropriate legal services with needs. We advocate a re-thinking of the roles of many justice system stakeholders, with particular attention to the critical steps that legal educators should take to bridge the justice gap. Our hope is that this article will inform and expand access-to-justice conversations so that they more intentionally address the legal needs of the vast rural reaches of our nation, thus furthering the ultimate goal of realizing access to justice for all Americans.
Lisa R. Pruitt University of California, Davis – School of Law; Amanda L. Kool Harvard University, Law School – Faculty, Transactional Law Clinics; Lauren Sudeall Lucas Georgia State University College of Law; Michele Statz University of Minnesota – Duluth – School of Medicine; Danielle M. Conway University of Maine School of Law; and Hannah Haksgaard University of South Dakota School of Law.