Take Me Home, Country Roads

Despite the mountains of evidence proving that the current U.S. legal system is home to more lawyers than available law firm jobs, a recent article in The New York Times has stirred a national conversation about the stunning lack of attorneys in our country’s rural communities. Relying on statistics assembled by LexisNexis, the article shows that 98 percent of all U.S. law firms that employ fewer than 50 lawyers are concentrated in suburban and urban areas rather than rural locations.

According to the NYT, 83 percent of Texas lawyers are concentrated in and around Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, with the remaining 17 percent spread over millions of miles of “legally underserved” rural areas. Other states mentioned in the article include South Dakota, where 65 percent of the state’s lawyers work and live in four urban areas; Georgia, where 70 percent are in and around Atlanta; Iowa, where a third of the counties are served by only 4 percent of the state’s lawyers; and Arizona, where 94 percent of that state’s attorneys work in a two-county area. The article notes how the winnowing amount of attorneys in rural areas already is resulting in significant legal headaches for local residents and businesses.

The American Bar Association has called on every level of government for help in boosting the legal ranks in rural communities, and South Dakota has responded by recently passing a law that will provide a $12,000 annual subsidy for attorneys who pledge they’ll live and work in one of the state’s rural areas for at least five years. The South Dakota initiative is modeled after similar subsidy programs that have been utilized by doctors, nurses and dentists for decades.

Although there is no current movement afoot to provide subsidies for Texas attorneys to work in rural areas, the statistics show that the Lone Star State may soon need to consider programs similar to the one being employed in South Dakota. With only 17 percent of the state’s attorneys living and working in Texas’ vast rural areas, that discussion may be next on the agenda. 


Posted: 5/3/2013 12:00:00 AM by Editor | with 0 comments

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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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