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Chief Justice concerned about impact of growing attorney shortage

WRTV Investigates found rural areas are hit the hardest.
Chief Justice Loretta Rush addressed the Governor and the General Assembly during her annual State of the Judiciary address.
Posted at 4:51 PM, Jan 10, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-01 15:07:28-05

INDIANA — The state’s top judge expressed concerns Wednesday about a problem exposed by WRTV Investigates — a growing attorney shortage impacting the state’s criminal justice system.

Chief Justice Loretta Rush addressed the Governor and General Assembly during her annual State of the Judiciary address.

Chief Justice Rush talked about the challenges of serving people in rural communities, which as WRTV Investigates reported, are the hardest hit by the lawyer shortage.

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“Courts are a primary referral source to get people to treatment. But there are huge barriers when a county has no service providers, no problem-solving courts, or not enough attorneys,” said Rush. “And no one sees a return on investment when we have ‘justice by geography,’ where a person can get help in one county, but can get locked up in another, because the same resources are not present.”

Chief Justice Rush talked about how some counties can’t find lawyers willing to take jobs in the criminal justice system.

“We are facing a shortage. Several counties are struggling to fill the constitutionally required positions of judge, prosecutor, and public defender,” said Rush. “And legal service providers can’t fill the gaps for all civil matters, such as child support, guardianships, wills and adoptions.”

The average salary (not starting) for a deputy prosecutor in Indiana is $69,777, according to the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council.

Meanwhile, the typical law school graduate carries $130,000 in education debt.

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Meanwhile, the typical law school graduate carries $130,000 in education debt.


Rush mentioned possible solutions in the works.

“Such innovation means examining broader pathways to legal education and bar admission, alternative forms of law licensure, and ways to encourage rural and public-sector practices,” said Rush. “Finding solutions will take all of us working together.”

The national average is four lawyers for every 1,000 residents.

In Indiana, it’s much lower — averaging 2.3 attorneys per 1,000 residents — putting Indiana in the bottom 10 states for attorneys, according to the Indiana Supreme Court.

You can watch our full investigation on the Attorney Shortage here.