Early County, Georgia
Early County, Georgia (John Disney/Daily Report)

The Georgia State University Center for Access to Justice has created an interactive map to show the availability or lack of legal services in different places.

The map clearly shows the access to justice gap—including those much-discussed six rural Georgia counties with no lawyers—and gives a clickable snapshot of the rest of the state as well.

“This map provides a data-driven picture of how the ability to access justice varies dramatically across the state and particularly between the metropolitan areas and more rural counties,” Lauren Sudeall Lucas, center director and associate professor of law, said in a news release.

The map shows data for each of Georgia’s 159 counties by population, number of active lawyers and which Atlanta Legal Aid Society or Georgia Legal Services office serves the area. The map also shows percentages of: households that live near public transit, households that do not have access to a vehicle, households with home internet access, the population that does not speak English at home and population at or below the poverty level.

“Depicting the data visually provides a powerful demonstration of the ways in which one’s geographic location and other demographic data may have a significant impact on the ability to utilize available resources in resolving civil legal issues,” Lucas said.

The map was built in partnership with Georgia Institute of Technology biological sciences professor Joshua Weitz and Chad Wigington, a doctoral student of bioinformatics in Weitz’s group.

“We were approached by Professor Weitz, who after recent exposure to some of the justice system’s failings was interested in providing pro bono assistance,” Darcy Meals, the center’s assistant director, said in the news release. “This project provided a good vehicle to benefit from his team’s computational and analytical skills and would not have been possible without their help.”

The data sources included the State Bar of Georgia, the Self-Represented Litigation Network, census data from the 2014 American Community Survey, 2015 statistics from the Federal Communications Commission, and data from the Center for Neighborhood Technology. The Georgia Legal Services Program and the Atlanta Legal Aid Society also assisted with the project, providing 2016 data about their programs. Georgia State law student and center fellow Jobena Hill assisted with gathering the data.

“The so-called justice gap has been well documented nationwide, but this map underscores some of the ways in which it plays out across our state,” Meals said. “Six Georgia counties do not have a single private lawyer, and all six of those counties have a poverty rate well above the national average. Not having access to an attorney or to the resources to seek alternative assistance puts residents of those counties at a significant disadvantage in navigating the civil justice system.”

“This map—and others like it—are an important tool, but also serve as a reminder of how much work needs to be done to ensure that all Georgians have equal access to justice,” Lucas said.

The center is also working on a study on the civil legal needs of indigent criminal defendants—funded by a grant from the Charles Koch Foundation, with Georgia State’s Sociology, and Criminal Justice and Criminology departments—as well as a report documenting student observations of state criminal court in Mississippi.