The Commission often covers Illinois’ rural access to justice crisis and the promising programs aimed at addressing it. However, challenges attracting rural lawyers remain.
According to the Illinois State Bar Association, there is fewer than one attorney per 1,000 people in more than 50 Illinois counties. Three Illinois counties have only a single attorney.
And as established lawyers in rural communities retire, new attorneys aren’t moving in to take their place. Based on 2021 bar admissions data, of the 7,872 new attorneys who were admitted and practicing in Illinois in the four years preceding 2022, roughly 90% practiced in Chicago and its collar counties. Seventy-two counties had five or fewer new attorneys and 33 counties had no new attorneys.
The state’s legal deserts are mainly in southern and central Illinois. This leaves vast swaths of residents across the state’s roughly 55,590 square miles with limited or no access to convenient legal representation.
We spoke with Angelica Wawrzynek, an attorney at Armstrong Grove & Wawrzynek in Mattoon and chair of the ISBA’s Special Committee on Serving Lawyers in Rural Practices, to learn about an in-person and virtual listening tour the Special Committee is hosting this fall aimed at exploring the needs of rural and small-town practitioners and the communities they serve.
In-person events are currently scheduled in Rock Falls, Macomb, Moline, and Danville. To find out more, click here.
How is the ISBA supporting lawyers in rural areas?
The ISBA has taken the initiative to address the shortage of rural and small-town attorneys. The starting point was the Rural Practice Initiative Committee, created by past ISBA President Dennis Orsey.
The initiative consists of two fellowship programs: a summer law clerk fellows program and an associate attorney fellows program. Both programs are designed to connect law students and recent law grads with law firms in rural areas and small towns across the state.
The ISBA provides a $5,000 stipend to law clerks placed through the program and a $10,000 stipend to associate attorneys placed through the program.
Why was the Special Committee established?
The ISBA Rural Practice Initiative Committee quickly observed that there are other obstacles between new law grads and rural practice. Likewise, there are issues facing rural attorneys that might warrant the ISBA offering different (or additional) benefits and services.
Realizing that the problem is bigger than the fellowship program could address, past ISBA President Anna Krolikowska created the ISBA Special Committee on Serving Lawyers in Rural Practices to make recommendations on how the ISBA can best serve lawyers practicing in rural areas of Illinois.
ISBA President Rory Weiler reinstated/continued the Committee so it could continue to look into the problem. He has been very supportive of the Committee.
What can attendees expect from the listening tour?
To make recommendations [on how the ISBA can best serve lawyers practicing in rural areas], we are conducting a listening tour to gather information from all quarters of the state.
[Events are scheduled for October and November. Anyone interested in attending may RSVP here: https://www.isba.org/committees/servinglawyersinruralpractices]
[Attendees] can expect to discuss the benefits and unique aspects of rural and small-town practice, the issues and challenges facing attorneys (and their firms), the types of benefits or services that might make their practices easier or better, and anything else they feel ISBA leadership should know about rural and small-town practice.
Who should attend the listening tour events?
Anyone with ideas on the above topics is encouraged to attend. Attorneys in rural and small-town practice are [encouraged] to attend, provide feedback about their practice, and share about the needs of rural and small-town practitioners.
Attorneys in more urban areas are also welcome to attend and offer their thoughts and ideas.
Lawyers are also encouraged to respond to a survey [on the benefits and challenges of rural practice and how the ISBA can support them] that we will be sending to attorneys across the state later this month.
If you have questions, would like to schedule a listening tour in your area, or would like to submit your comments in writing, please email Courtney Masters or call (217) 525 -1760.
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