Improving Access to Justice in the Rural Reaches of Southern California
Los Angeles Lawyer Magazine, March 2018, pp. 26-32
9 Pages Posted: 6 Nov 2017 Last revised: 18 Jun 2018
Date Written: November 3, 2017
Our nation has, in recent years, become aware of the lawyer shortage afflicting rural communities, along with associated rural access to justice challenges. This short article, written for an issue of Los Angeles Lawyer Magazine highlighting various access to justice issues, focuses on Southern California’s rural communities. In particular, we analyze recent data on attorney distribution throughout that region to highlight the extent and details of the rural attorney shortage in eight Southern California counties.
We begin by surveying the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of rural communities, including high poverty rates, remoteness from services, and poor public transportation infrastructure. Next we analyze data compiled by Professor Emeritus James Meeker of UC Irvine, an ex officio member of the California Commission on Access to Justice, regarding the geographic distribution of attorneys within Southern California. That dataset, which provides the number of attorneys within each Medical Service Study Area (MSSA), clusters of census tracts that comprise sub-county units, paints a comprehensive picture of where attorneys are—and are not—within the region. These data indicate that Southern California’s rural communities are facing a significant attorney shortage, thus creating a dramatic justice gap in which relatively few rural attorneys are effectively unable to meet these communities’ legal needs.
Finally, we issue a call to action to Southern California’s urban lawyers and law schools. The region’s attorneys can minimize the rural-urban justice gap by directing more of their pro-bono efforts toward rural communities. Attorneys and firms can also partner with legal aid organizations using innovative programs and technology to provide legal services to rural clientele. Southern California law schools can also help meet rural justice needs by providing students with coursework and clinics that focus on rural issues, as well as by promoting summer rural programs and legal incubators that equip lawyers for rural practice. Closing the justice gap between urban and rural communities in Southern California will require a long-term effort, coordinated among multiple stakeholders.
Keywords: access to justice, justice gap, legal profession, rural, legal education, attorney shortage
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