April 19, 2023

Concord Law School launches new class to address rural legal issues

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Concord Law School at Purdue Global, Purdue’s online school for working adults, wants to solve the problem of “legal deserts” across the U.S.

Up to 40% of U.S. counties are legal deserts, defined as counties having one lawyer or fewer per 1,000 residents. It’s an increasing challenge communities face — whether because of the volume of legal work needed, the demand for lawyers with specific expertise, or the potential conflict-of-interest issues that could arise with some cases. And many if not most of these legal deserts are in primarily rural areas.

In response, Concord Law School is launching a course this summer, Rural Law Practice, to empower students who are considering rural law practices. Another goal is to show the legal needs of various agribusinesses and family farms while highlighting the shortage of civil and family legal services in rural communities.

Access to justice in rural areas is a priority for the Concord Law School and its renewed mission to develop partnerships with rural legal communities, said Shaun Jamison, associate dean of academics at Concord Law School at Purdue Global. And offering an online rural law course helps those who are interested in practicing rural law.

“Some lawyers in rural areas are working into their 70s and 80s, with no one to take over their practice,” Jamison said. “This could be an opportunity for more people who work in rural areas to go into the legal profession and work in the areas they live. This online course can help interested law students or lawyers from rural areas around the country to participate and learn at a reasonable cost.”

Jamison said the idea for the course stems from Purdue Global’s intimate connection to Purdue University and the public institution’s legacy and leadership in agriculture, Extension and outreach services, as well as its storied land-grant mission.

“We believe that the rural economy needs community-based lawyers and legal services. There are people serving rural communities who are serving from large metro areas or even large county seats that have large rural client bases,” Jamison said.

Topics in the new class include not only agricultural law but also succession planning, common legal issues in rural communities, family law, land use and civil law. 

Hannah Catt, adjunct professor with Concord Law School at Purdue Global, will lead the class. Catt, who is passionate about rural legal issues, said it is important to understand that agriculture is often one of the largest sectors of a state’s economy. For that reason, she said, accessible legal services are essential to keep a rural economy going.

“Rural areas and rural residents are a critical piece of the U.S. — economically, culturally and politically,” said Catt, who lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas. “Rural areas are not a monolith; however, some of the common issues are difficulties in accessing legal services due to a lack of technology access, such as limited phone service or broadband access. There also are geographic barriers and a lack of attorneys in rural areas who specialize in complex fields of law.”

In addition to those challenges, students will learn the benefits of a rural legal practice, including the value of personal relationships and how living in the community you’re serving is important to be successful, Catt said. Further, the course will demonstrate how many agricultural law concepts intersect with other legal practice areas.

“My goal is that the students will not only be able to articulate the challenges facing rural clients and rural attorneys, but also how these challenges create opportunities for creative problem-solving as an attorney, making rural practice very dynamic,” Catt said. 

For more information or to register and attend this class, contact concordcoordinator@support.purdueglobal.edu.

Writer/Media contact: Matthew Oates, 765-496-6160, oatesw@purdue.edu, @mo_oates

Sources: Hannah Catt, Shaun Jamison

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