The Times-Tribune

Lacking lawyers, Plains states trying new tacks

- BY MARGERY A. BECK

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.

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