Clay County has no lawyers, so the county library offers legal aid on the first Wednesday of each month. (John Disney/Daily Report)
To understand the issue of the communities with no lawyers, it’s worth noting where they are.
The counties with the fewest lawyers, as shown on a map produced by the State Bar of Georgia’s pro bono director, Michael Monahan, are spread out across the area south of Atlanta. The biggest concentration is in the southwest corner of the state. Only one, Dade, is in the northwest, and it benefits from dual-licensed volunteers in Tennessee, Monahan says.
The much talked about six counties in Georgia with no lawyers are: Baker, Chattahoochee, Clay, Echols, Glascock and Webster. Four of those—Baker, Chattahoochee, Clay and Webster—are in the southwest corner of the state. Chattahoochee borders Columbus in Muscogee.
The other two are also near cities. Glascock is near Augusta. Echols borders Valdosta’s Lowndes County, as well as Florida, and is near the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp. One of its towns bears the fitting name Needmore.
People in South Georgia expressed some skepticism over whether leaders of the legal community in Atlanta understand their geography and lifestyle. They’re accustomed to driving to the next county or even the next state for matters as simple as shopping or dinner. Of course, these are the people who can afford cars, gas and restaurants.
Southern Judicial Circuit District Attorney David Miller serves five counties: Lowndes—which has the biggest city, Valdosta—plus Brooks, Colquitt, Thomas and Echols.
When asked whether it’s a problem that Echols has no lawyers, Miller seemed to be having to hold back a laugh.
“A lawyer couldn’t make a living with a practice just in Echols County. It’s rural,” he said. “It’s pine trees and alligators.”
People in Echols County go to neighboring Lowndes County for their banking, shopping, medical appointments and most everything else, he said.
Criminal defendants have public defenders. For civil matters, people drive to the next county to find a lawyer, he said. “Statenville, the county seat of Echols County, is only 20 minutes from Valdosta,” Miller says. “It’s a lot easier than driving from Sandy Springs to Atlanta.”