Saturday, November 18, 2017

Quantifying the rural lawyer shortage - a summary and progress report

Anyone who read my previous posts will know that I have stated that there is a rural lawyer shortage in this country. When I began writing for this blog, I was working on a project for my MPA program that analyzed the supply of rural lawyers in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. I hoped to find a relationship between the rural lawyer shortage and a number of different variables. My goal was to begin to formulate a policy solution to this problem. I have since finished that project and am happy to discuss my process and the results that I generated.

To start, I compared the location quotient and supply of lawyers per 10,000 residents to the same for family and general physicians, the local supply of lawyers to the median salary for lawyers in that given non-metropolitan area, and the local poverty rate to the supply of lawyers. My eventual ambition is to expand this project to include a more thorough analysis of all fifty states.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only one nonmetropolitan area has a location quotient that exceeds 1.0. The lucky winner of that prize is Southwest Montana. This, of course, means that the underemployment of lawyers is a pandemic across rural America. What I found when I compared the supply of lawyers to supply of family and general physicians is that this seems to be a problem that is rather unique to the legal profession. My original hypothesis was that there may be a correlation between the supply of lawyers and doctors. The idea behind this hypothesis was that people in learned professions would tend to cluster together. If this were true, it would point to larger economic development issues in a particular rural community. However, if you look at this link, you would see that this is not true and my own regression analysis confirmed as such.

I also compared the local poverty rate to the supply of lawyers. Again - the idea that I pursued was whether or not local prosperity might be an indicator (or possibly even an attractor) of the supply of lawyers. I once again did not find any correlation.

My final comparison was between the median salary for lawyers and the supply of lawyers. I thought that a higher rate of pay might attract more lawyers to move to a certain area. There also appeared to be no correlation.

At the end of the project, I had all of my hypotheses disproven and was essentially left back at square one in terms of policy formulation. What was perhaps most frustrating however was learning that higher salaries and lower poverty (both indicators of a strong local economy) were not enough to attract lawyers to a given area, at least in the areas that I studied. Addressing the rural lawyer shortage is going to require action that goes beyond simple economic development.

My eventual hope is to further refine and publish this paper because I think that it provides an interesting comparison and illustrates how unique the rural lawyer shortage actually is and why it is something that we cannot simply brush aside. I also hope to expand to all 50 states to see if these patterns are true nationally or if this lack of correlation is unique to the Carolinas and Virginia. I suspect that these patterns are true nationally but I would have to crunch the numbers to say with absolute certainty whether or not this is true.

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