Rural Justice Task Force
Through the Rural Justice Task Force, LSC seeks to raise awareness about the civil legal needs of rural residents; profile model programs and approaches to providing effective legal services or information to Americans living in rural or remote communities; and recommend strategies for engaging private attorneys to serve rural clients.
Rural-designated regions compose nearly 75% of the country. Approximately one out of every five (or 20%) of Americans call a rural community home. These are highly resilient and increasingly diverse regions, with vibrant local economies and many underrated assets. Rural communities serve as principal providers of natural resources, key originators of food supply chains and points of access to tourism and outdoor recreation.
However, rural areas face unique challenges given factors like geographic and social isolation, the frequent lack of Internet service or technology, the low density of legal-aid and other human service providers, and the distinctiveness of different rural populations. These barriers exacerbate the immense justice gap in rural areas wherein around 10 million rural residents have family incomes below 125% of the federal poverty line. According to LSC’s 2017 Justice Gap Report, 75% of rural households experienced at least one civil legal problem the prior year—including 23% that experienced six or more problems. However, only 22% of rural households contacted legal aid providers for assistance, while 86% received no or inadequate help for their legal issues. The COVID-19 pandemic will likely increase the poverty—and legal needs—confronting rural Americans.
In spring 2021, LSC’s Board of Directors enacted a Rural Justice Task Force to explore challenges associated with providing high-quality legal services in rural and remote areas. Officially launched in December 2021, the Task Force comprises an interdisciplinary group of thought leaders (listed below), including legal aid and human service providers, business and philanthropic leaders, educators, court professionals and members of the judiciary. The mission of the Rural Justice Task Force is to enhance access to justice in rural communities by:
- Raising awareness about the rural justice gap;
- Profiling model legal service and related programs;
- Identify best practices for supporting rural attorneys and serving rural clients; and
- Encourage the exchange ideas and conceptualize improvements on topics such as how to recruit and retain attorneys in rural areas, reach people with limited or no Internet or cell phone service, use videoconferencing and other technology to provide services, cultivate effective community partnerships and pro bono initiatives, and build trust with people who live in rural communities.
To read more about the work of LSC’s other Task Forces, click here.
The national law firm Quarles is providing invaluable pro bono project assistance to the Task Force, and Ascendium Education Group, Inc., a philanthropy and federal loan guarantor committed to increasing access to and success in post-secondary education and training, is generously supporting the project.
Rural Justice Task Force Co-Chairs
Father Pius Pietrzyk, O.P.
LSC Board Vice Chair; and Adjunct Professor of Canon Law, Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception (Dominican House of Studies)
Rebecca Emily Rapp
Non-Director Member of several LSC Board Committees and General Counsel & Chief Privacy Officer, Ascendium Education Group, Inc.
Task Force Working Group Co-Chairs
Rural Justice Task Force Members
Samuel (Sam) David Abel-Palmer
Executive Director, Legal Services Vermont
Indigenous Law and Policy Fellow, University of Arizona, James E. Rogers College of Law
Elizabeth (Liz) Canney Borer
Associate General Counsel, Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies
General Counsel – Corporate Governance, Bank OZK
Founder and Executive Director, Lagniappe Law Lab
Founder and Principal, Cameron Law PLLC
Chief Student Services Officer, Southwest Wisconsin Technical College
Erin Dearborn Coryell
Program Officer, Disaster Relief & Recovery, Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies
General Counsel and Deputy Director, Georgia Legal Services Program
Hon. Michael G. Heavican
Chief Justice, Nebraska Supreme Court
Nalani Fujimori Kaina
Executive Director, Legal Aid Society of Hawai’i
Board Member, Legal Services Corporation;
Partner, Shook, Hardy & Bacon L.L.P.
Abigail (Abby) Lawlis Kuzma^
Board Member, Legal Services Corporation;
Halbrook Distinguished Chair of American Government, Taylor University
Thomas M. Maul
Of Counsel, Dvorak Law Group, LLC
Hon. Margaret M. Morrow*
Former U.S. District Judge, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California; Former President & CEO, Public Counsel
Jessie R. Nicholson
CEO, Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services
The Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki
Bishop, Diocese of Springfield, Illinois
Anthony (Tony) Pipa
Senior Fellow, Global Economy and Development, Center for Sustainable Development, Brookings Institution
Beth Ann Richlen
Executive Director, Wisconsin Judicare
CEO, Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education, Inc.
Director of Behavioral Health Initiatives & Workforce Development, South Carolina Office of Rural Health
Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine and Biobehavioral Health, University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth Campus; Affiliate Faculty, University of Minnesota Law School
Hon. Gwendolyn (Gwen) Topping
Associate Judge, Red Cliff Tribal Court; President, Wisconsin Tribal Judges Association
William (Bill) Waddell, Jr.
Partner, Friday, Eldredge & Clark LLP
Executive Director, Legal Aid of West Virginia
Consulting Senior Strategic Advisor, Self-Represented Litigation Network
Hon. Joel H. Bolger
Senior Justice, Alaska Court System
Managing Attorney, The Law Office Furonda Brasfield PLLC
Former U.S. Representative, Indiana's 5th Congressional District
Principal Court Consultant, National Center for State Courts
Scott W. Carlson
Executive Director, Farmers' Legal Action Group
Whitney Kimball Coe
Director of National Programs, Center for Rural Strategies
Rural Pro Bono Program Attorney, Colorado Legal Services
Patrick G. Goetzinger
Partner, Gunderson, Palmer, Nelson and Ashmore, LLP
Executive Director, RuralOrganizing.org
William C. Hubbard
Dean, University of South Carolina School of Law
Brittany K.T. Kauffman
Interim CEO, Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS)
Executive Director, Rural Development Initiatives, Inc.
David A. Lash
Managing Counsel for Pro Bono and Public Interest Services, O'Melveny & Meyers, LLP
Sr. Court Policy Analyst, Court Services Division/Court Programs Unit, Arizona Administrative Office of the Courts
Administrator, Rural Business-Cooperative Service, Office of Rural Development, U.S. Department of Agriculture
CEO, Blandin Foundation
Staff Attorney, Legal Services of the Hudson Valley
Lisa R. Pruitt
Professor of Law, University of California Davis (King Hall)
Staff Attorney, Oklahoma Indian Legal Services, Inc.
Rodolfo "Rudy" Sanchez
Executive Director, DNA People's Legal Services
James R. Silkenat
Member and Treasurer, World Justice Project Board of Directors
Radhika M. Singh
Vice President, Civil Legal Services and Strategic Policy Initiatives, National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA)
Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Dollar General Corporation
Organizing & Advocacy Director, National Young Farmers Coalition
Director of Access to Justice and Strategic Collaboration, Tennessee Supreme Court, Administrative Office of the Courts
Executive Director, Southern Arizona Legal Aid, Inc.
Additional members of the Quarles & Brady LLP pro bono project team:
- Cameron Arthur, Associate (Phoenix, AZ)
- Patrick J. Bitterman, Partner (Chicago, IL)
- Dawn Caldart, Director, Pro Bono (Milwaukee, WI)
- Megan B. Center, Partner (Washington, DC)
- Theresa DeAngelis, Associate (Washington, DC)
- Brian K. Fullmer, Associate (Phoenix, AZ)
- Kaitlyn L. Fydenkevez, Associate (Washington, DC)
- Madison T. Hartman, Associate (Indianapolis, IN)
- Michael Levey, National Pro Bono Partner (Milwaukee, WI)
- Jennifer Michalski, Pro Bono and Learning & Development Coordinator (Milwaukee, WI)
- Jared W. Miller, Associate (Phoenix, AZ)
- Michael Mostow, Partner (Chicago, IL)
- Grace Stewart, Associate (Madison, WI)
- Shaylynn Veeder, Associate (Phoenix, AZ)
Press Release Announcing Launch of Rural Justice Task Force
On December 15, 2021 LSC launched a new task force to address critical issues with access to justice in rural communities across the country.
Watch: Legal Aid in Rural America, January 2020
The moderated panel "Legal Aid in Rural America," featured legal services providers, academics and alumni of LSC's Rural Summer Legal Corps (RSLC), during the January 2020 Board of Directors Access to Justice Forum. RSLC is a privately funded initiative led in partnership with Equal Justice Works, which places law students at LSC-funded civil legal aid organizations to provide direct services in underserved rural areas across the United States and its territories.
Listen: Challenges to Delivering Legal Services to Rural and Tribal Areas
In the sixth episode of LSC's Talk Justice Podcast, host Jason Tashea discusses the daunting challenges to delivering civil legal services in rural and tribal communities with Nikole Nelson, Executive Director, Alaska Legal Services Corp; Rudy Sanchez, Executive Director, DNA-People’s Legal Service; and Rebecca Rapp, Task Force Co-Chair, LSC Non-Director Member, and General Counsel of Ascendium Education Group.
Listen: The Impact of the Digital Divide on Access to Justice
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused courts—previously slow to adopt new technology—to leap into prioritizing digital services. As legal aid and court services increase the use of online tools, there is a concern that people without access to technology and high-speed internet will be left behind. This gap, referred to as the “digital divide,” is the topic of the another latest Talk Justice podcast episode.