Access to Justice in Rural Arkansas

Mar 03 2015 Blog

Recently the William H. Bowen School of Law hosted a symposium dealing with the issue of access to justice. It was a wonderful symposium with the support of even better people. One area of concern the symposium focused on was access to justice in rural Arkansas. It is no secret that in the past few decades rural communities have decreased in population, while urban areas have continued to increase. As the rural population decreases, the number of attorneys available to represent people (the attorney per capita ratio) decreases also. In rural Arkansas the attorney per capita ratio is much lower than urban Arkansas. This lower ratio makes it hard for low to middle income people in rural areas to have access to legal representation.

Awareness of this problem inspired two lawyers and MRC Firm lawyer Bart Calhoun to write about this topic for an upcoming publication of the UALR Law Review. (Note: although Amy Dunn Johnson is not a co-author, this article would not have been possible without her assistance). In this article we highlight the problem of low attorney per capita ratio in rural Arkansas, discuss reasons for the problem, and propose solutions.

By looking at other states it is readily apparent that this problem is not only in Arkansas. South Dakota in recent years acknowledged its own problem with decreased access to justice in rural areas. The South Dakota legislature passed an act allowing law students and lawyers to apply to a program that offers subsidies for those willing to practice in designated rural areas. Nebraska, similarly, passed a law which enabled former law students to refinance their student loans if they agreed to practice in rural areas.

Our forthcoming article also discusses potential solutions such as tax exemptions for pro bono work, continuing legal education credits for pro bono work, and unbundled legal services. These ideas are not presented as exclusive remedies, but steps in the right direction to ensure all Arkansans have better access to justice. There are many incentives to practice law in rural communities, and we hope to see even more in the future.

Note: Bart Calhoun grew up and graduated from high school in Des Arc, Prairie County, Arkansas. With a population of 1,800 people, Des Arc qualifies as a rural community. Although he does not live in Des Arc anymore, Bart's practice focuses on legal issues affecting rural communities like Des Arc.