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Much of the focus of pro bono work is on urban firms helping city clients. But an increasing number of legal organizations are paying special attention to the needs of those in rural communities. Programs are doing so both by bringing city lawyers’ services to rural clients and by increasing the recruitment and contributions of rural practitioners. One recent effort is the American Bar Association’s Rural Pro Bono Project. Though there’s not a lot of data on rural pro bono services, the ABA does have some startling statistics on need and lawyer population: Of the nation’s 3,000 counties, more than 75 percent are rural. About 22 percent of the United States population lives in rural areas and they have a greater likelihood of poverty. Yet most of the nation’s lawyers reside and work in urban areas. ABA Pro Bono Chairman Robert Weiner, a partner at Washington, D.C.’s Arnold & Porter, says these statistics prompted the formation of the rural project. “We haven’t paid a lot of attention to the needs of rural clients, and we thought there was a lot to be learned,” he said. The project, funded by the Open Society Institute, is concluding a year of working to help build models for effective rural delivery, create systems of sharing information with rural residents nationally and explore the use of technology to improve services to rural people. One way it did so was to give out six mini-grants to help legal providers explore innovative ways to expand their services to reach rural clients. The project director, Claire Parins, says of the last year, “I think it’s been very effective in terms of making connections with hundreds of different players. I’ve heard from pro bono programs, legal services organizations and learned about the delivery systems that exist and how we could help them enhance or create systems.” KEEP THE GRANTS COMING The program is applying to get a renewed grant from the Open Society Institute for another year’s work. “I’m hoping there will be a second round of mini-grants and we can experiment with different kinds of systems that can work for different kinds of areas’ needs,” Parins said. One of the grant recipients is the West Tennessee Legal Services Pro Bono Project, which is creating a project to link rural needs to urban resources. The five lawyers in the legal services office cover 17 counties, comprising about 10,000 square miles. Between 250 and 300 volunteers work with the office, but it’s still so strapped for help that it’s reaching toward Memphis, Tenn., for additional attorney manpower on consumer cases. In rural communities, conflicts abound, particularly in cases that challenge local employers. Bringing in Memphis attorneys should help circumvent the problem, said Linda Seely, the director of legal services. “The attempt here is to use resources that the urban areas have that the rural areas don’t,” she said. The office will do so by creating a telephone hotline system, staffed by Memphis private attorneys in a space at the University of Memphis School of Law. Seely says she anticipates that the program will be running in April. Once a month, attorneys will be on call for clients who have been screened. The clients will have a toll-free phone date and 30 minutes to talk with an attorney. Seely said that she expects the majority of callers to have problems with used vehicles they’ve purchased that don’t work, with contractors who’ve done shoddy home repairs or with utility-bill disputes. The attorneys will be able to assist with advice, letters or perhaps a phone call to follow up. LAWYER OF THE DAY An alternate mode of service delivery is demonstrated in the program proposed by the Volunteer Lawyers Project of Maine, based in Portland, which also received a mini-grant. The project established a second office to reach attorneys practicing in the north and central parts of the state. The office replicates the Portland office’s “Lawyer of the Day” project, which uses volunteer lawyers to recruit pro bono lawyers for clients. The Portland office of the Volunteer Lawyers Project had been handling the work but ran into problems that were best solved by dividing the work between teams in the south and north. Anne Perillo, the project director, says that the Portland lawyers were unfamiliar with the lawyers in central and northern Maine and had difficulty finding lawyers to take cases. The urban lawyers often were unfamiliar with their country cousin’s familiarity with practice areas and their proximity to courthouses. And without personal ties, the lawyers had a harder time convincing lawyers to take cases. In October, the Bangor, Maine, office opened. It sets aside Thursday for the “Lawyer of the Day” effort. About 18 volunteers contact lawyers in six counties. “They’ve been able to refer out everything we’ve sent them — 20 to 25 cases,” Perillo said. That, she said, is a huge improvement over the weeks or months it sometimes took a Portland lawyer to place a case. Other groups are also tapping urban lawyers to increase rural services. In Florence, Ariz., Elizabeth Dallam runs a pro bono program for people detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service for removal proceedings at two facilities. The program, which started at the beginning of 1999, now has a pool of about 30 lawyers from firms an hour away in Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz., that take on clients. The cases, mostly asylum and torture convention, can be a huge time commitment and demanding in terms of resources. That’s why Dallam says it is so imperative that larger firms, like Lewis & Roca and Brown & Bain, have become key participants. Other programs, like the National Association of Law Placement, earmark some of their fellowships for rural projects. In the class of 2001, 21 of the 70 fellows are working on rural projects. The recipients often join rural legal aid programs, adding support to an overstretched office, or they take on a unique problem, specific to the area. JUMPING OVER HURDLES Andrea Gunn, a fellow with the Texas Civil Rights Project in Austin, is working on a project designed to increase awareness about Title IX and gender equity in high school and middle school athletics in rural Texas communities. High school football is a staple of rural social life in western Texas and many young women lose the chance to play sports and to benefit from college athletic scholarships. “A hurdle in working in these rural communities is the money,” she said. “That’s the major defense. Schools don’t have the money to be in compliance with Title IX, to improve the facilities or add teams.” Although she has one case in discovery, she said, the project is not directed at digging up inequities for litigation. “I’m trying to come up with creative solutions.”

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