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State commission created to address attorney shortage following WRTV Investigation

Rural areas are feeling the greatest impact of the state’s growing attorney shortage
Posted at 11:27 AM, Apr 05, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-05 11:27:33-04

INDIANAPOLIS-- Following a WRTV Investigation into the state’s growing attorney shortage, the Indiana Supreme Court has established a new commission to address the issue.

The 23-member Commission on Indiana’s Legal Future will explore solutions and present its recommendations to the Indiana Supreme Court.

In December, WRTV Investigates reported Indiana does not have enough prosecutors and public defenders to handle cases in a timely manner.

The national average is four attorneys 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.

 “We currently have a critical shortage of lawyers, which is impacting access to justice in each of our 92 counties,” Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush explained. “It’s imperative that we address this issue now and act. But we must do so diligently and holistically. I am confident that this new commission will thoroughly examine potential solutions and come back to us with meaningful, transformative recommendations.”

Rural areas are feeling the greatest impact of the state’s growing attorney shortage including the Town of Bicknell in Knox County.

Thomas Estabrook, Mayor of Bicknell, attends IU McKinney School of Law two nights a week so he can become Bicknell’s only attorney.

Estabrook is encouraged the Supreme Court is developing a commission.


“Definitely a great move by the Supreme Court,” said Estabrook. “I think it shows the pressing nature of the attorney shortage, and that the Supreme Court is taking the issue seriously. I am excited to see that incentivizing rural practice is key component of the commission’s mission.” 

The Indiana Public Defender Commission first testified before the Indiana legislature in 2021 about the seriousness of the shortage and its impact on criminal justice.

“We appreciate the Supreme Court’s actions and look forward to the recommendations of the Commission on Indiana’s Legal Future," said Derrick Mason, Executive Director of the Indiana Public Defender Commission.

The newly created Commission on Indiana’s Legal Future includes members from each branch of government, judges, lawyers from various types of practices, leaders from Indiana’s legal education institutions, and experts from the Office of Judicial Administration.

The Indiana Public Defender Council says the attorney shortage has a disproportionate impact on public defense.

"The right to counsel ensures that all other rights of the accused are protected. So, when there are no attorneys to represent low-income individuals, these vulnerable persons cannot vindicate their right to bail, their right to a speedy trial, and their right to due process," said Bernice A. N. Corley, Executive Director, Indiana Public Defender Council. "Instead, they linger in jail -- innocent until proven guilty -- and, if guilty, unable to access the rehabilitative services that most accused persons desperately need. The Public Defender Council is pleased that the Supreme Court is leading on this issue, and we look forward to engaging with them and all stakeholders to find solutions."

The Supreme Court says the Commission will also launch five work groups including:

  • Business & Licensure Models
  • Pathways to Admission & Education
  • Incentivizing Rural Practice
  • Incentivizing Public Service Work
  • Technology Applications

The commission must provide interim recommendations with legislative changes or funding recommendations by August 1, 2024.

They also must submit a full report to the Supreme Court by July 1, 2025.

WRTV Investigates found the number of attorneys coming out of Indiana law schools has been on the decline. In 2017, Indiana had five law schools:

  • IU McKinney in Indianapolis
  • IU Maurer in Bloomington
  • Notre Dame in South Bend
  • Valparaiso University in Valparaiso
  • Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne

Indiana Tech closed its law school in June 2017.

Valparaiso closed in 2020.

Rural Indiana is special, but it’s also the hardest hit by the state’s attorney shortage.


Members of the Commission on Indiana’s Legal Future:

1. Co-Chair – Hon. Nancy Vaidik. Indiana Court of Appeals

2. Co-Chair – Justin Forkner. Chief Administrative Officer, Indiana Supreme Court

3. Dean Karen Bravo (or designee). IU-McKinney School of Law

4. Rep. Ed DeLaney. Indiana House District 86

5. Sen. Sue Glick. Indiana Senate District 13

6. Elizabeth Green. General Counsel, Indiana Department of Workforce Development

7. Emily Guenin-Hodson. Guenin Law Office, P.C.

8. Prof. Bill Henderson. IU-Maurer School of Law

9. Angela Jones. The Law Office of Angela M. Jones, LLC

10. Amy Karozos. State Public Defender

11. Jon Laramore. Indiana Legal Services

12. Jeremy Morris. Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP

13. Michael Nossett. Deputy General Counsel, Office of the Governor

14. Dean Christiana Ochoa (or designee). IU-Maurer School of Law

15. Lara O’Dell. Program Chair, Legal and Paralegal Studies, Ivy Tech Indianapolis

16. Kathy Osborn. Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP

17. Bob Rath. Chief Innovation Officer, Indiana Supreme Court

18. Hon. Hunter Reece. Warren Circuit Court

19. Brad Skolnik. Executive Director, Office of Admissions and Continuing Education

20. Rep. Greg Steuerwald. Indiana House District 40

21. Sen. Greg Taylor. Indiana Senate District 33

22. Hon. Leanna Weissmann. Indiana Court of Appeals

23. Josh Woodward. Counsel to Chief Justice Rush

“The state of the attorney shortage – particularly the deputy prosecutor shortage – has become a public safety issue in Indiana. Offices are understaffed, turnover is high, and many deputy prosecutors are underpaid. IPAC has been working diligently to push the issue in front of the Indiana General Assembly and will continue to do so in the future. This new commission is a step in the right direction from our Supreme Court. We hope with the help from those involved, there will be a sustainable solution.”

- Courtney Curtis, assistant executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council


“It is encouraging that the Indiana Supreme Court has taken this step. It shows that they clearly recognize the seriousness and urgency of this problem which is a crisis in many communities. I am hopeful that this Commission can proceed quickly and thoroughly to be able to meet the deadlines it has set. Progress to solutions on this issue is an urgent need for Hoosiers across the State of Indiana.”
- Brent Eaton, Hancock County Prosecutor