Urgency grows as IN grapples with attorney shortage crisis
Thursday, January 18, 2024
Indiana is among states dealing with an attorney shortage crisis and its potential impact on the criminal justice system.
As states grapple with the shortage, Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush is building a special panel of experts in search of solutions.
Christiana Ochoa, dean of the Maurer School of Law at Indiana University, is one of the voices on the panel. She said the shortage follows a decline in law school applicants.
The crisis was further exacerbated in 2020 when Valparaiso Law School closed. Now, the state faces the consequences, especially in rural areas where lawyers are in short supply.
"Indiana is not alone in the quandary, but we are certainly feeling it," Ochoa acknowledged. "This is a problem that we've been aware of or concerned about for actually a number of years, but it's getting worse rather than better."
To tackle challenges, Ochoa believes a comprehensive approach involving legal education programs, limited licensure and paralegal services tailored to address gaps may help ease the crunch. She noted the shortage goes beyond the criminal justice system into commercial law, leaving Hoosiers without legal representation when facing issues with companies or health care providers.
Ochoa pointed out law students provide thousands of hours of legal services in underserved communities at clinics where students receive hands-on, practical training doing pro bono projects.
"My sense is that solutions will come through coordination between the judiciary, the legislature and the law schools inside the state," Ochoa explained. "There are also some basic funding problems because it's definitely on the minds of law students. Legal education is expensive."
The attorney shortage is crucial. But Ochoa added the issue is much broader, pointing to residents in rural areas who face challenges accessing information because small town newspapers have closed and there is a shrinking landscape of medical and social services.
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