Lacking lawyers, Plains states trying new tacks
OMAHA, Neb. — In Wheeler County, Nebraska, if you want a divorce, attorneys who can help you are nearly 50 miles away.
There’s only one attorney, James McNally, in the northcentral county, and he is its sole prosecutor. He’s been there for 50 years and was at one point one of five attorneys. He has a side practice handling probate and estate services, but obviously can’t take criminal defense cases.
There’s a reason more lawyers don’t land in places like Wheeler County, one of 11 counties that have no attorneys outside of elected prosecutors, he said. With so few people to serve and recent graduates carrying loads of student debt, it just doesn’t pay, he said.
“They go where the money is, and that’s not a small town,” he said.
In response, Nebraska has launched a program that targets rural high schools students, hoping to persuade them to return to their roots to practice law.
Modeled after the Rural Health Opportunities Program, which recruits rural students to become smalltown doctors, Nebraska’s program targets high-achieving students with plans to go to law school, offering fulltuition undergraduate scholarships to three rural Nebraska colleges: Chadron State College, the University of Nebraska at Kearney and Wayne State College.
Participating students who maintain a 3.5 GPA and get a minimum LSAT score automatically will be accepted to the University of Nebraska College of Law in Lincoln.