Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Nebraska program seeks to make attorneys of rural young people, then send them home to practice

The University of Nebraska College of Law initiated a program this fall to help bolster the attorney populations in rural parts of the state that are experiencing  lawyer shortfalls.  Taking a different tack than neighboring South Dakota, which pays lawyers who make a five-year commitment to work in an underserved county, the Rural Law Opportunity Program (RLOP) supports students who seem like good prospects to become lawyers and then return to rural Nebraska to practice.  Modeled on a similar program that supports would-be doctors from rural area, the initiative is a collaboration of the UN College of Law and three "rural" colleges and universities:  University of Nebraska, Kearney, Chadron State College, and Wayne State College.  Here are some basics on the program, from the RLOP website:
RLOP students will receive scholarships to fund their undergraduate education and will begin to develop their relationship with Nebraska Law as early as their freshman year in college. Participants will be required to maintain a 3.5 cumulative GPA at their undergraduate institution to remain in the program. RLOP students who satisfy this GPA requirement, obtain a minimum LSAT score and meet other minor law school application criteria will be automatically accepted to the University of Nebraska College of Law.
As RLOP participants, students will visit Nebraska Law for guest lectures, special court proceedings, observation of classes and networking activities. Nebraska Law administrators and admissions representatives will also visit the campuses of participating schools at least once an academic year to meet with students one on one. Between their junior and senior years, RLOP students will have the opportunity to participate in rural Nebraska internships.
Here's a recent news item about the program, from High Plains Public Radio. Journalist Angie Haflich quotes Lyle Koenig of West Point, Nebraska, who is co-chair of the Rural Practice Initiative of the Nebraska State Bar.
“Ten counties in Nebraska have no lawyers at all." 
Another 19 counties have three attorneys or fewer, according to an analysis by the Nebraska Bar. That, Koenig says, sets up a legal gap between rural and urban residents. 
“You don’t have access to justice because you don’t have access to lawyers,” Koenig says.
Of the effort to target rural young people as presumably the best prospects to become the next generation of rural lawyers, Koenig says:
If you start with kids that come from the country in the first place, there is a very good chance they will come back to the country to practice law.
The story also makes reference to my academic work on the rural lawyer shortage, including my survey of law students and lawyers in Arkansas regarding their attitudes toward rural practice.  Read more here, too.

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