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Biden administration moves to protect Alaska wilderness; opening statements and first witness in NY trial; SCOTUS hears Starbucks case, with implications for unions on the line; rural North Carolina town gets pathway to home ownership.

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The Supreme Court weighs cities ability to manage a growing homelessness crisis, anti-Israeli protests spread to college campuses nationwide, and more states consider legislation to ban firearms at voting sites and ballot drop boxes.

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Wyoming needs more educators who can teach kids trade skills, a proposal to open 40-thousand acres of an Ohio forest to fracking has environmental advocates alarmed and rural communities lure bicyclists with state-of-the-art bike trail systems.

A lack of attorneys creates 'legal deserts' in rural IL counties

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Wednesday, January 24, 2024   

Labor shortages exist across the country in the medical and teaching professions but not as much is said about the lack of attorneys in some states, including Illinois.

The shortages are most acute in rural counties, causing 'legal deserts.' The National Center for State Courts said 35 Illinois counties have 10 or fewer attorneys in private practice.

Sarah Taylor, immediate past chair of the Rural Practice Initiative for the Illinois State Bar Association, said many new law graduates choose to work at larger firms in urban areas that offer higher salaries.

"A lot of lawyers are graduating with a lot of debt from law school," Taylor pointed out. "Certainly, at least newer attorneys, they kind of struggle. They may want to work in a rural area, but it's difficult to do that and also pay their debts."

Taylor suggested one solution could be a loan repayment-type program as an incentive to practice law in rural areas. The website Education Data Initiative estimates the average total cost for a traditional three-year law degree is nearly $221,000. Tuition rates, on average, increase by almost $1,400 a year.

Long-distance travel to a law office and the inability to pay an attorney are leading more rural residents to represent themselves in court, even with no experience in legal proceedings. Taylor stressed it can make it difficult for judges to, as she put it, "keep the playing field balanced." She added other alternatives are showing some promise.

"The Supreme Court of Illinois has done a lot of standardized forms that people can use in various kinds of cases, which is very useful," Taylor acknowledged. "Illinois Legal Aid Online also is similar and it has different forms that can walk people through how to create a form for doing a name change, or doing a divorce petition, or something like that."

She emphasized the Illinois State Bar Association has started a Rural Practice Fellowship Program. The goal is to connect small-town law firms seeking law clerks and associates with law students and attorneys interested in practicing in rural Illinois communities.


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