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Eliminating Barriers to Justice in Rural Communities

/ Blog Post

Rural areas in the United States have long been faced with a lack of accessible civil legal aid. Residents in rural communities are often forced to travel great distances to find much-needed legal assistance. Since 2016, Equal Justice Works has worked with Legal Services Corporation (LSC) to bring unique opportunities for law students to improve access to justice in rural areas through the Rural Summer Legal Corps (RSLC).

Last summer, Student Fellows in the RSLC spent eight to ten weeks helping to provide direct legal services and engaging in community outreach and education. Selected from 460 applications, the 2021 class of RSLC Student Fellows included 35 Student Fellows who served at 32 LSC-funded civil legal organizations across the country. During their summer of service, Student Fellows collectively contributed 10,746 hours to help rural communities attain access to legal aid, with 4,492 hours spent on direct legal services! Their efforts helped a total of 1,296 individuals, and they assisted on 795 legal cases.

“I felt like I was making a meaningful difference in the lives of my clients,” said Jessica Stipek, a second-year law student at the University of Oregon School of Law and 2021 RSLC Student Fellow. “I also appreciate that I got to work on a wide range of cases and with different attorneys.”

I felt like I was making a meaningful difference in the lives of my clients. I also appreciate that I got to work on a wide range of cases and with different attorneys.

Jessica Stipek /
2021 Student Fellow
Rural Summer Legal Corps

Student Fellows provided legal aid in a wide variety of issues, such as housing matters, COVID-19, economic matters, the opioid crisis, and disaster relief. They also served a diverse client base that included agricultural workers, victims of domestic violence, minors, veterans, military members, and elderly clients. Of the 34 RSLC participants surveyed, 80% said that their experiences throughout the Fellowship increased their interest in working with similar client bases in the future.

Additionally, the 2021 RSLC class of Student Fellows participated in 154 outreach events and created or expanded more than 170 collaborations with community partnerships. These efforts resulted in 944 individuals receiving informational legal services, such as resource materials, Know Your Rights trainings, and fact sheets.

“I was able to directly serve clients in filing various forms of post-conviction relief,” said Justin Small, a third-year student at Loyola Law School Los Angeles and 2021 RSLC Student Fellow. “It was actually being able to talk to clients and help them with their legal issues that I think was the most impactful. I also got to develop some of my ideas around client advocacy.”

Despite the challenge of several Student Fellows working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 RSLC Student Fellows were still about to explore their passion for service and foster positive outcomes for the clients they served. Following their summer of service, 97% of Student Fellows felt that their legal knowledge had increased from their Fellowships, and 85% said participating in the RSLC had increased their passion for public interest law.

“It afforded me the opportunity to get real legal aid experience and confirm that I am invested in pursuing a career in public interest law,” said Justin.

[RSLC] afforded me the opportunity to get real legal aid experience and confirm that I am invested in pursuing a career in public interest law.

Justin Small /
2021 Student Fellow
Rural Summer Legal Corps

For more information about the Rural Summer Legal Corps, such as program eligibility and requirements, please visit here. To become a 2022 Student Fellow, apply by 11:59 p.m. ET on February 14, 2022.

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow