2023 CCJ-COSCA Midwest Summit

Legal Services … Are We Lost in the Desert?

Midwestern Summit
Ann Arbor, Michigan
September 27-29


The summit focused on the challenges of recruiting and retaining attorneys in rural areas and a discussion of innovative programs and initiatives to address the issues created by legal deserts. State judicial leaders had an opportunity to discuss legal deserts in their respective states, brainstorm around improvements, and consider whether innovative programs currently running in other states could be a model for their own jurisdictions.

A second summit is scheduled for 2024.

Agenda, Day 1

We Need a Map [session video]

The conference is focused on thinking about justice needs in rural areas and identifying how courts and state justice systems can respond to the unique needs and challenges of rural communities. But before getting into legal needs in rural areas specifically, it is important to understand our various states’ needs in a broader way than just court data.  For this purpose, we can look to GIS (Geographic Information Systems) mapping. GIS mapping is a way for us to answer questions about our communities.  It can reveal information about which areas have the greatest need, how to respond to changing demographics, and what services are available through looking at data at a county, neighborhood or zip-code level. This session will be highly interactive and allow conference participants to roll their proverbial sleeves up to think about these challenges holistically.


  • Marcia Meis, State Court Administrator - Illinois
  • Danielle Hirsch – Managing Director, National Center for State Courts


Charting a New Path [session video]

The panel will discuss models for future attorneys to gain admission and explore innovative options to place attorneys in rural communities across the country and recent efforts in Indiana and South Dakota to address lawyer shortages.


  • Justin Forkner, State Court Administrator– Indiana
  • Greg Sattizahn, State Court Administrator – South Dakota
  • Danielle Hirsch – Managing Director, National Center for State Courts


Generative AI [session video]


  • Professor Jennifer Leonard, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School
  • Zach Zarnow, Principal Court Management Consultant, National Center for State Courts
Send Help: Recruiting and Retaining Legal Professionals in Rural Communities [session video]

Rural communities often struggle to fill their legal workforce. In this session, we will examine successful models for recruitment and retention of attorneys and staff including those methods specific to public defense services and legal services. We will also consider the role that law schools play in placing students and attorneys in rural communities by examining innovative programs for Kansas and Nebraska.


  • Jeffrey D. Jackson, Interim Dean, Professor of Law, Washburn University School of Law-Kansas
  • Anthony Schutz, Associate Dean for Faculty & Marvin and Virginia Schmid Foundation Professor of Agricultural Law, Nebraska College of Law-Nebraska (via Zoom)
  • Heather Cessna, Executive Director of the Kansas State Board of Indigents’ Defense Services-Kansas
  • Beth Ann Richlen, Executive Director, Judicare Legal Aid-Wisconsin


The Oasis: Working to Overcome Legal Deserts [session video]

Learn how the Kansas Rural Justice Initiative Committee is working to overcome legal deserts through collaboration. The committee, which was established in December 2022, is dedicated to working with other professionals to learn from their experiences and address common issues in rural communities. We will discuss how the medical and veterinary fields have crafted successful programs to address rural physician and veterinarian shortages, how we can engage with our legislative and executive branch partners, and how we can all work together to address attorney shortages.


  • Justice Kenyen “K.J.” Wall Jr., Kansas Supreme Court
  • Senator Elaine Bowers, Kansas Senate
  • Dr. Brad J. White, Professor, Production Medicine Director, Beef Cattle Institute, Kansas State University-via Zoom
  • Trisha Purdon, Director, Office of Rural Prosperity, Kansas Department of Commerce
  • Paige Recker, Access to Rural Care Manager, Michigan Center for Rural Health


Day 2

On to New Frontiers [session video]

Panel discussion on innovative solutions to access to legal services, including self-help centers, kiosks, and Midwestern moves toward regulatory reform.


Jeff Shorba, State Court Administrator – Minnesota

Liz Reppe, State Law Librarian, Minnesota Judicial Branch

Angela Tripp, Co-Director, Michigan Statewide Advocacy Services; Director, Michigan Legal Help Program

Dori Rapaport, Executive Director, Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota

Anne Hoefgen, Executive Director, Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota

Justice Brian Zahra, Michigan Supreme Court

Justice Anne McKeig, Minnesota Supreme Court