Speakers during the Rural Legal Access Summit in 2017 included, from left, San Joaquin College of Law Professor Andrew Kucera, UC Berkeley School of Law Professor William Kell, and UC Davis School of Law Professor Mary Louise Frampton. Photo submitted by San Joaquin College of Law

Rural Legal Access Summit

By Ali Huda and Andrew Kucera

On Oct. 12, the San Joaquin College of Law (SJCL) will host the Second Annual Rural Legal Access Summit.

The Summit brings together professors, students, lawyers, judges, community leaders and social justice experts to explore methods and practices for improving legal access to underserved populations in rural areas of the San Joaquin Valley.  This is the second consecutive year for the Summit, and last year attracted 60–70 attendees.

The Summit will consist of presentations by social justice leaders, moderated panels of community leaders and lawyers, and a keynote presentation. Central California Legal Services (CCLS), a sponsor of the Summit, will also recognize select students during a special ceremony for the Wiley W. Manuel Awards for Pro Bono Service.

SJCL is excited to host this year’s keynote speaker, Professor Lisa R. Pruitt. Pruitt is the Martin Luther King, Jr., Professor of Law at the UC Davis School of Law, where she has taught for nearly two decades. Her courses include Law and Rural Livelihoods, Working Class Whites and the Law, Feminist Legal Theory and Torts. She also writes a blog, “Legal Ruralism: A Little Legal Realism about the Rural,” which has been around for more than a decade.

Pruitt began writing about rural difference and rural invisibility in relation to the law in 2006. She has published a number of scholarly works about the rural lawyer shortage and related access-to-justice issues. Pruitt co-chairs the Rural Task Force of the California Commission on Access to Justice. She is a faculty affiliate of the UC Davis Center for Poverty Research and a widely recognized expert on rural poverty.

Pruitt’s most recent work, “Legal Deserts: A Multi-State Perspective on Rural Access to Justice,” is slated for publication in the Harvard Law and Policy Review. This paper surveys rural access to justice in six geographically, demographically and economically varied states: California, Georgia, Maine, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, and ultimately proposes a two-step approach toward closing the rural justice gap. Pruitt will discuss her paper in detail at the Summit.

Other highlights of the Summit include two moderated panels: one of rural community leaders with first-hand experience in legal access issues, and one of lawyers providing services in rural areas. The Consulado de México en Fresno will also attend and present on its efforts to provide pro bono legal services to residents of rural areas.

The Summit was conceived from the new “Practice 99” curriculum, a collaborative effort between law professors at UC Berkeley, UC Davis and SJCL. Professor William Kell is leading the effort at UC Berkeley, Professor Mary Louise Frampton at UC Davis and Professor Andrew Kucera at SJCL. Kell, Frampton and Kucera will be at the Summit with their Practice 99 students.

The Practice 99 curriculum combines law practice management, technology and access to justice, and teaches law students how to start and grow community-based low-bono law practices that are profitable and socially fulfilling. The Practice 99 moniker comes from “Practice for the 99%,” as the vast majority of consumers of legal services cannot afford to pay prevailing market rates.

This is the second year of Practice 99 at SJCL, with enrollment increasing from 10 students in 2017 to 13 students in 2019.  One student in Practice 99 said, “Before taking Practice 99, I never would have considered starting my own law practice. Now I know it’s an option.”

The Summit will be presented by Law Students for Community Advancement (LSCA), a student group at SJCL that promotes civic engagement and develops impactful relationships with the community. The LSCA will collaborate with Kucera, alongside UC Davis and UC Berkeley, to host the event. In the past, the LSCA hosted panels to discuss solutions to other local community problems, such as immigration reform and refugee aid.

This Summit will highlight various problems that rural communities of modest economic means face when seeking to access lawyers to resolve their legal issues and provide tangible solutions to combat those problems.

The Summit runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. A continental breakfast, catered lunch and refreshments will be served. There is no cost to attend. Licensed attorneys can receive up to three credits of MCLE, including one credit in elimination of bias. There is no cost for the MCLE.

Register for the Summit at www.sjcl.edu/rlas. For questions about the Summit, e-mail akucera@sjcl.edu or lsca-board@student.sjcl.edu.

*****

Ali Huda is a graduating law student and the president of Law Students for Community Advancement (LSCA), a student organization at San Joaquin College of Law. LSCA seeks to promote a culture of civic engagement at San Joaquin College of Law, and build meaningful relationships with communities to create positive social reform.

Andrew Kucera is an Adjunct Professor at San Joaquin College of Law, and also a partner at Palmer Kucera LLP in Clovis, CA, where he practices real estate/business law, landlord-tenant law, and estate planning.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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