Eighty percent of all active Kansas attorneys live in six urban counties, leaving Kansas rural communities struggling to find legal help. The newly created Rural Justice Initiative Committee plans to tackle the issue, with the goal of attracting attorneys to practices in rural areas.
In Kansas, there’s a ratio of two attorneys per 535 residents in urban areas, and a ration of one attorney per 808 residents in rural areas, according to the Kansas Judicial Branch. Wichita and Hodgeman counties have no attorneys at all, and five other rural counties have only one practicing attorney in the area. Eleven rural counties in the state have only two practicing attorneys in the area.
Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Marla Luckert created the committee with an executive order. Luckert said the lack of attorneys constituted a crisis, damaging the lives of rural residents.
“We have to recognize that there is not access to justice, and the system of seeking redress for those grievances is unbalanced because it’s financially inaccessible, or individuals have no lawyer or otherwise lack the resources to get the information they need to navigate the complex system and procedures of redressing that grievance,” Luckert said.
The 35-member committee, headed by Justice K.J. Wall, will collect data on the legal needs of rural populations, make recommendations about existing Kansas rural attorney recruitment projects and study demographic trends. Ashley Comeau, Of Counsel with Jeter Turner Sook Baxter, LLP, was appointed to the committee and will chair the Data Collection and Information Gathering Subcommittee. At the end of 18 months, a steering committee will report back to the Supreme Court with its initial recommendations.