August 3, 2020

Rural California suffers a painful shortage of lawyers

[Cross-posted from the Daily Journal]

By Lisa Pruitt and Kelly Beskin ‘21

Rural America lags behind the rest of the nation in access to health care, broadband, quality of education and nearly every other measure of well-being. On July 28, the American Bar Association hosted an online program featuring leaders and scholars of the legal profession discussing ways to address another rural deficit: the painful shortage of lawyers.

Although about a fifth of the nation's population lives in rural areas, these places are home to only 2% of small law practices. These so-called legal deserts are significant barriers to justice for their residents.

This access to justice crisis is also playing out in rural California. While the statewide ratio of attorneys to residents is 1:626, just over 3% of lawyers have addresses in "rural" and "frontier" areas as those terms are defined by California's Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. The ratio of lawyers to residents thus varies dramatically from region to region, county to county, and from city to town to unincorporated area.

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