Sunday, October 8, 2023

Wall Street Journal takes up the rural lawyer shortage, sorta'

Shannon Najmabadi's story in this weekend's Wall Street Journal was headlined, "Courts Come to Order with Judges, Litigants--but No Lawyers."  The dateline is Pittsburg, Kansas, population 20,646, and here's the lede:  
A court day with no lawyers used to be rare for many Kansas judges, but Judge Lori Bolton Fleming now regularly presides over hearings similar to the divorce case she heard in late September.

The man showed up with no lawyer and no paperwork, when he was supposed to bring a completed divorce decree with him. Bolton Fleming pulled out the necessary form and began filling it out.

“What year were you married?” she asked.

Across the U.S., more people are forgoing lawyers in state civil courts. Some can’t afford an attorney, have had bad experiences with them or prefer to take advantage of advice and tools posted online. Unlike criminal defendants, who have a right to a public defender, people appearing in civil court for cases including housing, debt collection or protections from abuse have no such guarantee.

Najmabadi doesn't mention until the next paragraph that his partly--perhaps largely--a rural phenomenon: 

Some rural areas, such as the counties Bolton Fleming oversees, have an added challenge: Few or no lawyers practice nearby. Those who remain can be choosy; they might, for example, limit their acceptance of domestic cases that can be lengthy and emotionally involved.

Najmabadi quotes Judge Bolton Fleming, 

It's just supply and demand--they will take paying clients. 

This is, then, a story about both the market--but in particular the rural market.  It's a story about the rural lawyer shortage--but in disguise.  Nevertheless, the feature is worth a read in its entirety, for the deep dive into what's happening not just in Kansas--and not just in rural places--but more and more across the country as pro se litigants show up to court and judges must figure out how to mete out justice.  

A prior WSJ story about the rural lawyer shortage, this one by Erin Mulvaney, appeared a few months ago.  It discusses the use of paralegals to help alleviate problems associated with the rural lawyer shortage, with a focus on a new Minnesota proposal.  

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