Law Students Dedicate Summer to Providing Legal Services in High-Need Areas

June 15, 2016

Thirty law students are heading out across the country to provide legal services to low-income Americans living in rural communities. These students make up the inaugural class of the Rural Summer Legal Corps, a new program established by Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and Equal Justice Works. It is funded by private donations through LSC’s Campaign for Justice.

The Rural Summer Legal Corps program connects law students with civil legal aid organizations to address pressing legal issues. Students will pursue a number of projects, such as advocating for the rights of low-income tenants of mobile homes in rural Virginia, assisting with estate planning for elderly communities in the Kau District of Hawaii, and assisting with Order of Protection proceedings for domestic violence survivors in rural eastern Missouri. Students will spend 8-10 weeks this summer in rural communities.

“I am thrilled that LSC has decided to partner with Equal Justice Works to support the Rural Legal Corps, a very successful program that places law students in rural legal aid programs for the summer,” said Equal Justice Works Executive Director David Stern. “This program brings high-caliber legal talent to rural communities, and provides life-changing experiences for the law students who participate.“

The law students selected for the Rural Summer Legal Corps met in Alexandria, Virginia, on June 8-10 for training that prepared them for the challenges of serving rural clients.  The training allowed them to network with each other and to meet leaders in the legal aid community. Sessions focused on how to do effective outreach to rural populations, the potential roadblocks to providing service, and innovative ways to meet with clients living in remote areas.

Law student Brittany Ward, who is joining Legal Aid of Arkansas for the summer, was excited when she first learned about the Rural Summer Legal Corps.

“There are so many reasons why this program inspired me. Both of my grandmothers grew up on farms; my father was a military veteran who had to represent himself in court to appeal his benefits,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in access to justice issues, and the Rural Summer Legal Corps seemed like the perfect fit.”

 “The opportunity to work with Legal Aid of Arkansas is so exciting to me,” Ward continued. “I’ll get to learn from legal aid attorneys and witness the law in action while advancing social justice.”

 Not only will the law students’ service be a huge benefit to rural communities, it will also help prepare them for their careers after graduation.

 “Serving with the Rural Summer Legal Corps will give me the real-world experience that I need,” explained law student Hannah Catt, who is set to join DNA-People’s Legal Services working on Navajo and Hopi reservations in Arizona. “I’ll be able to apply what I’ve learned in the law school classroom to help clients most in need of legal assistance. I think my experiences this summer will be an asset when it comes to pursuing public service jobs after law school.”

 While many Rural Summer Legal Corps fellows are excited to experience new areas of the country, many others have chosen to return to their home states in order to give back to their communities.

 “I saw the notice about the new Rural Summer Legal Corps and I knew instantly it was right up my alley,” explained law student Avery Riley, who will work with Southeast Louisiana Legal Services Corporation. “Growing up in southern Louisiana, I’ve lived in both urban and more rural settings. I can relate to the challenges people in rural areas face. Many people are unfamiliar with the legal process and cannot afford an attorney. They need someone to step in and be an advocate for them.”

 Riley also believes serving with the Rural Summer Legal Corps will be an important step in his legal career. “This is an opportunity not only to help people, but to get the experience I need,” he said. “It will help me develop the tools necessary to be effective in getting people the legal help they need.”  

 Law student Amanda Postel was eager to spend the summer conducting outreach and providing legal help in rural areas of her home state of Wisconsin.

 “Meeting the other students serving in the Rural Summer Legal Corps and getting to learn from leaders in legal aid has really made me energized,” she said. “I’m thrilled to be providing legal help and finding new ways to reach out to rural agricultural workers in Wisconsin. This is such important work. I’ll be spending the summer trying to make the law accessible and understandable.”

 “I think we’re all ready to be out in the field,” Postel said. “It’s exciting to know we can use our legal training to benefit the people who need legal services the most.”   

 LSC's Campaign for Justice funds groundbreaking initiatives that strengthen the work of civil legal aid providers across the country. The goal of the Rural Summer Legal Corps fellowship program is to provide critical legal services to clients while engaging a new group of lawyers with civil legal aid.

Equal Justice Works is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a just society by mobilizing the next generation of lawyers committed to equal justice. It offers training and opportunities for law students and lawyers that enable them to provide effective representation to underserved communities and causes.

Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is an independent nonprofit established by Congress in 1974 to provide financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. The Corporation currently provides funding to 134 independent non-profit legal aid programs in every state, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.