For many rural counties, access to legal representation is limited or even non-existent. In fact, according to a 2020 report by the American Bar Association, of the United States’ 3,100 counties and county equivalents, 54 have no lawyers at all, and an additional 182 have only two or fewer. Indiana stands only tenth from the bottom on the list of lawyers per capita, with just 2.3 lawyers for every 1,000 residents.
“Rural counties have what we call legal deserts,” says Inge Van der Cruysse, a lecturer at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law who previously supervised externships. “Lawyers who are practicing in rural counties are retiring, are passing away, and they’re not being replaced by the younger generation.”
The law school hopes the Rural Justice Initiative will alleviate some of rural Indiana’s waning lawyer population. The program, supported by the Center for Rural Engagement, is offered by the Maurer School of Law in collaboration with the Indiana Supreme Court. Indiana Chief Justice Loretta H. Rush, a 1983 graduate of the Maurer School of Law, and Judge Edward W. Najam Jr. of the Indiana Court of Appeals developed the idea for the program. The program was launched last year by the law school’s Dean of Students Aviva Orenstein, who played a leading role in the development and implementation of the initiative, along with the faculty's Judicial Clerkship Committee. Additional support was provided by the law school’s Board of Visitors Clerkship Committee, which Judge Najam co-chairs. This year, Justice Christopher Goff of the Indiana Supreme Court, a 1996 graduate of the law school, worked with Professor Van der Cruysse and the faculty Judicial Clerkship Committee to build on the program’s successes from last year.