Nebraska needs lawyers. Currently, 31 of the 93 counties in Nebraska have three or fewer practicing attorneys, and of those 31 counties, 11 of them have none. To counter this, UNL, alongside three other colleges, have set up the Rural Law Opportunities Program.
As a part of the program, Wayne State College, Chadron State College and the University of Nebraska at Kearney will each accept up to five rural freshmen per year and provide free tuition. If those students maintain a 3.5 GPA and get a predetermined score on the Law School Admissions Test based on the College of Law’s current admission standards, they will be automatically admitted to the UNL College of Law.
“Lawyers are important parts to communities,” said Molly Brummond, assistant dean of student and alumni relations at the UNL College of Law. “Without access to lawyers, it makes the judicial system much harder to access.”
According to Brummond, the system was inspired by a similar program used by the University of Nebraska Medical Center called the Rural Health Opportunities Program. As of fall 2012, 660 students have gone through the medical program. Brummond said while some students do move from their hometowns, a majority of them remain in rural counties to help where they are needed.
Jan Krotter Chvala, a lawyer in O’Neill, said a closer connection between students and firms could help lessen this gap. Students who are more accustomed to urban life might find rural areas more interesting once they get to know the intricacies of the town and currently, only students who grew up in such towns are most interested in working there.
Chvala said this issue is one that needs work on both ends. While students may fear the change of a new environment, employers also seem set in their old ways. In order for this to work, older law firms need to be open to new ideas, technologies and rules for the more modern light.
One major difference, Chavala noted, between practicing rural law and urban law was the connectedness between a city and town. In a city, one can easily disconnect and remain anonymous. In smaller towns, where everybody knows everybody, that isn’t as possible. Besides that, she said the two are very similar.
“The law issues are really about the same,” Chvala said. “Basically if you’re in a rural area, you have to deal with more farm and ranch and real estate issues than if you practice in an urban area. But the law is the same. Divorce, personal injury, unemployment issues, social security issues, city planning issues, criminal issues are all the same in the city as they are in rural.”