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Mixed-methods research explores why legal-aid programs do not adequately serve lowincome rural Americans

“Access to justice” initiatives aim to provide legal services and information to people who otherwise might not have access to legal aid. In the United States, these initiatives are typically designed in urban areas and, as a result, less useful for rural areas that have different capacities and infrastructure than urban places. A forthcoming article in the Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law Policy uses interviews, focus groups, and survey data to examine legal-aid service experiences among low-income rural residents in the Upper Midwest. The authors found that existing initiatives do not meaningfully recognize rural capacity limits or the complex barriers that low-income rural residents face, including well-known hurdles like weak broadband access and newly identified challenges like rural legal deserts. While many initiatives focus on “access,” this may only mean physically getting someone to a courthouse, only for them to have to effectively be their own attorney. Authors recommend how to improve these programs by considering local context and low-income rural residents’ own definitions and expectations of “justice.” #rural