News

Expanding Access to Justice in Rural Communities: Highlights from the 2023 RSLC Class

/ Blog Post

Access to legal aid in rural communities across the United States has been a longstanding challenge. Low-income and under-resourced residents in rural communities are often forced to travel great distances to find much-needed legal services. In fact, a staggering 92% of low-income Americans are not getting any or enough legal help for their civil legal problems.

In response to this issue, Equal Justice Works first partnered with Legal Services Corporation (LSC) in 2016 to offer opportunities for law students to improve access to justice in rural communities through the Rural Summer Legal Corps (RSLC). The RSLC has provided opportunities for law students to respond to the shortage of legal aid in rural communities every summer since.

Last summer, RSLC Student Fellows spent eight to ten weeks providing direct legal services and engaging in community outreach and education. Selected from over 330 applications, the 2023 class of RSLC Student Fellows included 45 Student Fellows who served at 41 LSC-funded civil legal organizations across the country. During their summer of service, Student Fellows collectively contributed 13,129 hours to help rural communities attain access to legal aid, with 4,881 hours spent on direct legal services! Their efforts helped a total of 2,194 individuals, and they assisted on 1,030 legal cases.

The best part of this program was getting the support of a nationwide organization while getting to work on the ground locally with a focus on underserved areas. My host site was a great learning experience and everyone I met was so passionate and motivated.

Maria Catalano /
2023 RSLC Student Fellow

“The best part of this program was getting the support of a nationwide organization while getting to work on the ground locally with a focus on underserved areas. My host site was a great learning experience and everyone I met was so passionate and motivated,” said Maria Catalano, a second-year student at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law and 2023 RSLC Student Fellow. “I am leaving this summer with a lifelong commitment to rural populations and will always be grateful for this Fellowship.”

Student Fellows provided legal aid in a wide variety of issues, such as housing, responding to the opioid crisis, tribal law, domestic violence, farmworkers’ rights, and more. Of the 41 RSLC participants surveyed, 87% said that their experiences throughout the Student Fellowship increased their interest in working with similar client bases in the future.

The best part [of my Fellowship] was learning the tribal court system and native culture. The more I learned, the more invested I was in helping protect native culture and children.

Reilly O’Connor /
2023 RSLC Student Fellow

“The best part [of my Fellowship] was learning the tribal court system and native culture. I had the opportunity to participate in many cultural events and listen to different Native American perspectives. The more I learned, the more invested I was in helping protect native culture and children,” said Reilly O’Connor, a second-year student at Baylor University School of Law and 2023 RSLC Student Fellow.

Additionally, the 2023 RSLC class of Student Fellows participated in 139 outreach events and created 144 collaborations with community partnerships. Their efforts resulted in 1,763 individuals receiving informational legal services, such as resource materials, Know Your Rights trainings, and fact sheets.

The most exciting part of the program was that I was engaging in real legal practice and impacted real people in need, not corporations.

Anonymous /
2023 RSLC Student Fellow

“The most exciting part of the program was that I was engaging in real legal practice and impacted real people in need, not corporations,” said one 2023 RSLC Student Fellow. “Calling a client and telling them their issue is resolved was a rewarding feeling that trumps all others.”

The 2023 RSLC Student Fellows explored their passion for service and fostered positive outcomes for the clients they served. Following their summer of service, 95% of Student Fellows felt that their legal knowledge had increased from their Fellowships, and 83% said participating in the RSLC had increased their passion for public interest law. 97% of Student Fellows walked away from their summer of service feeling that their experience in the RSLC prepared them for post-graduate legal work.

I know experience should be the most important part of any job, but for someone who needs to be able to earn money to get through law school, getting paid for this position was amazing,” said Carlie Marquez, a second-year student at Lewis & Clark Law School and 2023 RSLC Student Fellow. “I have to miss out on some opportunities of being able to do this kind of work because they do not pay. Here, I was able to do something I loved and still make a livable wage.”

Applications are open—apply to the Rural Summer Legal Corps by 11:59 p.m. ET on February 13, 2024. For more information about program eligibility and requirements, please visit here.

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow