Governance & Membership

President's Message - March 2024

Legal Deserts

By Miles Pringle

2024 OBA President Miles Pringle

In February, members of OBA leadership attended the 2024 Midyear Meeting for the National Conference of Bar Presidents. This event was a great opportunity to learn from peers around the nation and receive updates on hot topics. We engaged in roundtable discussions and presentations on subjects such as engagement between the bench and the bar.

One of the most important programs I was able to attend was titled “Legal Deserts: Why They Matter and What Bar Associations Can Do.” The speakers were Jerry Kilgore, former Virginia attorney general and chair for the Appalachian School of Law Board of Trustees, and St. Mary’s University School of Law Dean Patricia Roberts. The program description framed the issue that, “There are 1,300 counties that have less than one attorney per 1,000 residents  and 54 counties with no lawyer at all … The effect on access to justice is profound.”

This is an issue that has come up in my conversations with attorneys around the state of Oklahoma. Members discuss their concerns with how few lawyers there are in their communities. The numbers support their concerns. In Oklahoma, there are 14 counties that have five or fewer attorneys.

Immediate Past President Hermanson recalls conversations he has had with rural attorneys who are looking toward retirement. “These are lawyers with good practices who are having trouble handing off good books of business. We need to get younger lawyers to meet these people and learn about these opportunities.”

One of the remedies the presenters suggested was training potential rural attorneys where they reside. Former Attorney General Kilgore emphasized the location of the Appalachian School of Law in a more rural part of the state. Dean Roberts highlighted her school’s online program, which accepts a limited number of students who can earn their degrees without moving to the San Antonio metro.

We discussed legal deserts with current members of the OBA Leadership Academy. I was impressed with their discussion regarding how technology could help. By using more virtual or electronic hearings, they believe attorneys can represent clients in a wider geographical area without travel costs. They also discussed how a robust e-filing system could help serve rural clients.

The speakers at the NCBP program also highlighted the steps that Nebraska has taken. Nebraska is building a program through which undergraduate students who meet certain requirements are automatically accepted to law school and can receive some loan forgiveness for law school tuition. This is modeled from programs developed to encourage medical providers to stay in rural communities. It will be interesting to see how successful this program is.

Legal deserts are an ongoing concern for access to justice in the state. There does not appear to be a simple solution or a quick fix. However, hopefully, there are several steps that can be taken in the coming years to help address this issue.


Miles Pringle is executive vice president and general counsel at The Bankers Bank in Oklahoma City.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal – OBJ 95 Vol 3 (March 2024).

Statements or opinions expressed in the Oklahoma Bar Journal are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Oklahoma Bar Association, its officers, Board of Governors, Board of Editors or staff.