The latest episode of All Things Judicial focuses on legal deserts and the lack of access to legal representation in some of North Carolina's rural communities. Our guest is the Chief Justice's Commission on Professionalism's (CJCP) Co-Executive Director Jimbo Perry. In addition, we hear from attorneys Sarah Beth Withers (Beaufort) and Reatter Neal (Franklin) who share about living and working as attorneys in rural communities. In the first segment, Perry defines the legal desert issue and describes CJCP's role in recruiting attorneys and increasing access to justice in rural areas of the state.
"I've been trying to get the truth out about what is called by many a legal desert, and in my mind the truth is that these places are really a legal oasis," said Perry on the podcast. "They're a place that can really capture the imagination and heart of why people went to law school in the first place."
A "legal desert" is defined as a county which has fewer than one attorney for every 1,000 residents. In North Carolina, 48 counties fit this definition despite having experienced a population growth of almost one million residents over the last decade (2010-2020). One of the reasons for this effect, is that the population growth has occurred in North Carolina's 30 urban counties, with the fastest growth having occurred in the Raleigh, Charlotte, and Wilmington areas. That trend may result in 70% of North Carolina counties going without new attorneys able to provide legal services to residents in small, rural communities. But the attorneys who do locate in designated legal deserts often find high satisfaction in their careers and significant lifestyle improvements over their time spent in urban communities.
"You have control over your career. You have control over your family life. It gives you the freedom to set your own calendar and decide what kind of law you want to practice," said Sarah Beth Winters on the podcast. "I don't have to put-in 80+ hours a week to create the lifestyle that I want because living in a rural community is cheaper. It's been able to give me a really strong sense of community and family that's very rewarding."
To find out more about legal deserts in North Carolina, please contact the Chief Justice's Commission on Professionalism at NCcourts.gov.