Too many rural Nebraska counties have too few attorneys. The Nebraska State Bar Association hopes to do something about it.
Twelve counties have no lawyer. Twenty-two have three or fewer. Some rural lawyers are aging. Some have retired. Some want to retire.
“There’s one lawyer who wants to retire, but says his clients won’t let him, because there’s not another lawyer nearby,” Nebraska State Bar Association President Michael Fenner tells Nebraska Radio Network.
Fenner says rural communities aren’t just hurt by a lack of access to legal aid, but they lose leaders as well when lawyers retire or move.
The bar association established a Rural Practice Initiative in 2013 to increase the number of attorneys in underserved parts of Nebraska. The initiative recently got a boost with a $15,000 grant from the American Bar Association.
The law schools at Creighton University in Omaha and the University of Nebraska in Lincoln have been terrific partners in the effort, according to Fenner.
The money will provide incentives for rural law firms to hire summer law clerks as well as offset some of the expenses the law clerks will face.
Specifically, the money will allow the state bar association to recruit 10 new law firms to participate in the Summer Clerkship Program. Priority will be given to firms in communities with the fewest lawyers. Student law clerks will be given a modest housing stipend.
Fenner says it’s an effort to get kids to consider a country practice.
“You can talk to these law students about how great life is in the rural communities and how great a legal practice they can have,” according to Fenner, “but, they’re just like, well as a lawyer, they’re just like jurors, they don’t want you telling them what to think. You need to show them and have them come to their own conclusion.”
Fenner says the summer experience can open the eyes of law students, letting them see the variety of legal practice they can have in rural Nebraska and how well they will be welcomed to rural communities.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]