For many of the almost 3 million people in the state of Arkansas, access to an attorney, and therefore to the justice system, is hard to come by.
There are 5.3 attorneys for each 10,000 residents in Arkansas. This rate is the second lowest in the country; only North Dakota residents have fewer attorneys per capita. As a contrast there are 20.4 attorneys per 10,000 residents in the state of New York. That means that individuals who desperately need help from attorneys, like small-business owners or battered spouses, may not be able to find adequate representation.
Inability to find representation is a problem for rural areas and small towns in Arkansas, according to Dean John DiPippa.
“Many of our graduates choose to enter solo practice in small towns and rural areas where the need for legal services is great,” DiPippa said. “We offer a course in practice management, but we also feel our students need more help when they begin their individual legal careers.”
For 2010 law school graduates in the United States, about 5.7 percent went solo. These graduates may have made that decision because legal positions in firms are on the decline. Since May 2008, legal employers have witnessed the loss of about 54,000 jobs, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Because of these statistics, the UALR William H. Bowen School of Law has partnered with Solo Practice University (SPU), an online educational and professional networking community for lawyers and law students. The partnership features 10 full scholarships for SPU (five each for the classes of 2011 and 2012) as well as a discounted rate for any Bowen student or graduate who wishes to enroll in the program.
“Students and recent graduates can apply for these scholarships with a 750-word essay outlining their thoughts and plans for starting a law practice,” said Assistant Dean of Career Services Dianna Kinsey. “However, all our students and graduates will have the ability to access the tools provided through the Bridges Access interface.”
SPU provides online classes, tools, and other services to help law students and lawyers who intend to pursue an independent legal career. Comprised of more than 560 online individual classes presented by more than 45 faculty members, SPU provides access to expert advice, mentorship, tools, information, technology, and the professional network lawyers need to succeed in the current marketplace.
“Our ‘Bridges’ initiative is the next stage in the evolution of legal education,” said Susan Cartier Liebel, SPU founder. “There is a gap between the knowledge law schools provide their students and the skills required by new lawyers; SPU’s mission is to bridge that gap. The ‘Bridges’ initiative expands that mission and gives law schools a way to supplement their students’ legal education with practical, skills-based learning opportunities.”
SPU not only enables access to justice for the residents of Arkansas and beyond, it provides real education in professionalism.
“By working with Solo Practice University, we are able to better prepare students and recent graduates for the challenges and opportunities of striking out on their own and improve access to justice for everyone,” DiPippa said.