Even if one counts judges, prosecutors, public defenders, county and city attorneys and all the other categories of lawyers not generally available to the general public, there would still be 6 counties in Georgia that lack lawyers and a couple of dozen counties with fewer than 5 lawyers (see this article).
So, on Saturday, the State Bar of Georgia Board of Governors approved a plan to attract private civil attorneys to rural areas by offering state-funded repayment of law school loans to any attorney who moves to an underserved rural community. Even through the plan was described as “a great idea”, “a great idea”, and “mom & apple pie” it’s passage was not without some debate (see this article).
Frankly, these types of assistance programs are a good first step, but there needs to be more in place if young lawyers are going to succeed in rural practices; things like mentorship programs and community buy-in. It also would help if there were clear ethical guidelines on the use of technological innovations like client portals and virtual law offices. There needs to be an effort made to show the potential rural lawyer that practicing in a county that’s more pine barrens that people can be profitable, not just sustainable; that it can be a career rather than a set number of years of pro bono and ramen before moving on to better things and bigger law.
My hat’s off to the Georgia Bar for taking that first step. I wish them success and I hope they continue to help young lawyers build rural practices.
This is not a post about always asking for a retainer up front or why you should take credit cards (both boffo ideas in their own right). This is not about managing accounts receivable, setting rates, or getting reticent clients to make good on their debts. This is not about how you should handle the occasional request to barter for your services (if the suggestion involves livestock, it is always better to ask that for it to be delivered wrapped and frozen and not walking and mooing).
I have a colleague who describes his research as falling into two categories: the stuff he does for DARPA (which pays the bills) and the stuff he does to make his mother proud. Which, in a way, is a good summation as to why I do the odd bit of pro bono work.
Aspirational goals aside, there is little upside for the rural lawyer to do pro bono – there is no great PR bump (there is an expectation in rural communities that neighbors look out for each other & the definition of neighbor is quite expansive) and there is certainly little return on the investment outside of that smile, those tears, that look of relief that comes when the client realizes that there is someone there to help shoulder the load. It’s not a payment you can take to the bank, but it has its own inestimable worth.
Remember: National Pro Bono Week is October 23-29 – go make mom proud.
Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do. Saint Thomas Aquinas Two Precepts of Charity
It is National Pro Bono Week and if you are here for that up-beat, positive, celebratory post you’ve come to the wrong place – there is a crying need for pro bono services in rural areas which, for the most part, is going largely unanswered and that is just plain depressing.
The need is very real – based on 2000 Census data, 459 of the 500 poorest counties in the nation are rural, 481 of the 500 counties with the lowest per-capita income are rural, and rural counties with poverty rates above the national average outnumber urban counties by 5 to 1. The rural poor are more likely to be married and more likely to be working than their urban counterparts, but they are also more likely to be generationally poor and chronically under-employed as well.
The problem is very real – an ABA survey shows that only 20 percent of lawyers live in towns/areas with populations of less 50,000 or less, and that distance and travel demands, lack of technology and associated infrastructure, and lack of supporting resources constrain the availability of pro bono services. The prevailing perception seems to be that because no one lives in rural counties and even if they did their legal problems are so trivial that it is not worth expending resources in these areas. It is a case of too few, too small, too hard, why bother. Continue reading
If you have a concern about the cost of legal services, then LawHelp.org and LawHelpMN.org may be the resources you are looking for.
Both organizations are gateways that help low and moderate income people find referrals to legal aid and public interest law offices, and both provide basic information about legal rights, self-help information, court information and links to social service agencies. While LawHelpMN.org is specific to Minnesota, LawHelp.org acts as a nationwide clearing house.
So don’t avoid seeking out legal help just because you believe you can’t afford it. Good, affordable legal help is out there and these sites can help you find it.