AALL Recap: Legal Deserts in America—What Is Meaningful Access to Justice for All?

By Jessica Almeida, LISP-SIS

What is a Legal Desert?

During the AALL conference, the Government Law Libraries Special Interest Section sponsored a session titled, “Legal Deserts in America – What is Meaningful Access to Justice for All?”.  The panel, moderated by LISP-SIS member Miriam Childs (Director of the Law Library of Louisiana), discussed the immense shortage of lawyers in rural areas and programs that are working towards bringing legal assistance to these areas.    

Why are there shortages?

Lawyers are not spread evenly throughout the 50 states.  Even in states with high numbers of attorneys, there are counties with no lawyers or legal assistance.  Panelist Lisa Pruitt (Martin Luther King Jr. Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) explained the findings from the 2020 Profile of the Legal Profession, which shows large areas within several states with little to no legal representation.  Most lawyers are where the people are, concentrated in cities or largely populated areas.  The shortages found in these rural areas are due to a number of factors.  Newer lawyers are concerned about the financial aspects of being a rural lawyer and wonder how they will pay off law school debt.  Young lawyers worry about malpractice and the lack of mentors in rural areas.  They also sometimes have social and personal concerns, including meeting people their own age and having access to good schools and healthcare. 

What are the consequences of shortages?

Ms. Pruitt explained the consequences of legal deserts, including individuals who spend more time in jail if there is no legal assistance nearby.  This leads to higher court costs for taxpayers as court appointed lawyers need to travel to see their clients.  For civil issues, having no local legal representation means large percentages (approximately 86%) of people who receive no legal help.

What are the responses to the shortages? 

A number of states have programs to decrease the legal shortages in rural areas.  Ms. Pruitt spoke about legal incubators, succession planning programs, and partnerships to bring urban resources to rural areas.  She also discussed how legal educators can encourage students to consider becoming rural lawyers.  Panelist Suzanne Starr (Director of Policy & Legal Services, South Dakota Rural Recruitment Program) gave a brief overview of the program created by the South Dakota Supreme Court and State Bar in 2013.  The South Dakota Rural Recruitment Program works to pair new lawyers with small counties in South Dakota.  The lawyers receive a stipend to defray the cost of student loans while working on legal matters for the county and providing legal services to the townspeople as part of their private practice.  Attorneys must invest five years in the program, before they can decide to stay or move on.  The hope is that most attorneys will become integrated in the community and decide to stay.  Ms. Starr reports that the program has been successful, doubling the number of attorneys since the program’s inception.  She also talked a bit about the challenges, including finding housing for new attorneys in the area and the difficulties of recruitment during COVID. 

What can law libraries do to help?

At the end of the program, Ms. Childs spoke about the efforts her library makes to aid in rural areas.  In Louisiana, there are no public law libraries, so many public libraries need to provide legal reference assistance.   In response, the Louisiana State Bar Association, the Louisiana Library Association, and the Law Library of Louisiana created the Legal Education Assistance Program (LEAP).  The program provides training to public librarians on the Unauthorized Practice of Law and reference interview techniques while also providing access to legal resources through library guides.  The partnership also hosts a Lawyers in the Library program, where attorneys provide consultations or workshops on specific legal issues. 

To learn more about the session or to view the program, visit the virtual conference website.

About the author:  Jessica Almeida is a Public Services Librarian at the University of Massachusetts School of Law.  She is also vice chair of LISP-SIS and co-editor of the LISP/SR Blog.

The Bluebook Confronts Slavery—an AALL Annual Meeting Program Review

By Katelyn Golsby, Reference/Outreach Librarian, University of Miami School of Law

Since January 2021, Bluebook rule 10.7.1(d) was renumbered to 10.7.1(e) and a new rule was inserted into its place. The rule requires an additional signal on cases involving enslaved persons to indicate the presence of an enslaved party. On Tuesday, July 20, the AALL Program “The Bluebook Confronts Slavery” brought together numerous perspectives on the cultural background of the uniform system of citation, going above and beyond rule 10.7.1(d) to call for other potential changes that could begin to account for the Bluebook’s checkered past. The panel was coordinated by Nicholas Mignanelli (Research & Instructional Services Librarian and Lecturer in Legal Research, Yale law School), who called for the discussion of the newly proposed Bluebook rule among law librarians on the RIPS Law Librarian Blog back in November of 2020. The panel was moderated by Ronald E. Wheeler, Jr. (Director of the Fineman & Pappas Law Libraries and Associate Professor of Law, Boston University School of Law) and attended by the following panelists:

  • Justin Simard (Assistant Professor of Law, Michigan State University College of Law)
  • Alexander Harper (Bluebook Editorial Chair, Harvard Law Review Vol. 134)
  • Julie Graves Krishnaswami (Head of Research Instruction & Lecturer, Yale Law School)
  • Fred R. Shapiro (Associate Director for Collections and Access, Yale Law School)

Justin Simard began the discussion by introducing his article which paved the way for the concept of acknowledging slavery in citations—Citing Slavery (72 Stan. L. Rev. 79 (2020)). In his presentation on the panel, Simard provided multifaceted reasoning on why the mention of slavery in legal citations is important and provides some background about his project to collect those cases in which an enslaved person was involved through the Citing Slavery Project (www.citingslavery.org). In short, he argues that the failure of the legal profession to acknowledge slavery in citations is both legally dishonest and a source of harms to dignity.

Alexander Harper was the Bluebook Editorial Chair during the time that the new rule was approved. On the panel, Harper described the process of getting the rule into the Bluebook. He noted that because of the shift in institutional knowledge between editorial boards, he thought it was important to add the rule even though it was approved after the 21st edition was printed. He did not want to see the rule get lost or forgotten about between editions.

Julie Graves Krishnaswami contributed to the panel with a feminist critique of the Bluebook. She provided an example of the Bluebook’s failure to properly acknowledge female academics in that the Bluebook’s rules on author names often include only the last name of an author. This is a concept that feminist scholars have taken issue with because a woman’s first name distinguishes her from being the property of her father or husband. This part of the presentation added some different context to the overall sentiment that the principles on which much of the Bluebook is based are outdated and at times, offensive.

Fred Shapiro spoke last and described the conditions in which the Bluebook was initially created. The overall theme was that the Bluebook was the product of academic elitism and greed. Because if these origins, he argued that changes to the Bluebook to make it more equitable and inclusive are necessary and that the new Bluebook rule may not be the only appropriate adjustment to be made.

In sum, the panel was an excellent discussion of the unsavory context from which the Bluebook we use today sprang. While these rules may appear simple, impartial, and isolated, a critical view of the Bluebook uncovers a history that reflects that of the legal profession—a past imbued with elitism, racism, and sexism. It was clear to me after the panel that by acknowledging the past of the Bluebook and the legal profession, we can all make efforts to move forward in way that promotes equity and inclusion.

Award Winning LISP-SIS Members!

Congratulations to the following LISP-SIS members:

Congratulations to Miriam Childs!  Miriam is the Director of the Law Library for the Louisiana Supreme Court. She was named one of the Fastcase 50 award winners because she “advocates for underrepresented groups and helps to create pathways to amplify their voices in the future.” 

Congratulations to Mariann Sears!  Mariann is Director of the Harris County Robert W. Hainsworth Law Library in Houston, Texas.  She is the recipient of the Robert L. Oakley Advocacy Award, which recognizes someone who is “an outstanding advocate and has contributed significantly to the AALL policy agenda at the federal, state, local, or international level.” 

Congratulations to Amanda Bolles Watson!  Amanda is an Assistant Professor and Director of the O’Quinn Law Library at the University of Houston Law Center in Houston, Texas.  Amanda won the AALL/LEXISNEXIS Call for Papers Open Division with her article, “The Report of my Death was an Exaggeration’ – The Legal Treatise”.  The article will be published in the Journal of Law and Education this fall. 

Congratulations to Karen Westwood!  Karen is the Director of the Hennepin County Law Library, and she was selected as an 2021 Unsung Legal Hero by Minnesota Lawyer.  The award is given in appreciation of the hard work non-attorneys contribute to make the legal system successful for everyone.  Her outstanding work to increase the outreach of law library programs, not only for her library, but also for public law libraries in general is only one reason why she was chosen to receive this award.  

Congratulations to Linda Tashbook! Linda, who has been a law librarian at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law for twenty-three years, won this year’s award for service to the University of Pittsburgh Senate. The award recognizes her many years of service and leadership on the Senate’s Benefits and Welfare Committee and her establishment and leadership of the Mental Wellness Task Force which presents programming about mental wellness issues and provides advocacy to ensure that Pitt faculty and staff have access to the best possible mental health resources and services.

Congratulations to Joe Lawson! Joe is the Deputy Director of the Harris County Robert W. Hainsworth Law Library. Joe received the Houston Bar Association (HBA) President’s Award for outstanding service as co-chair of the HBA Law Week Committee. This year’s Law Week featured a variety of events focused on the theme “Advancing the Rule of Law Now.”

Do you know a LISP-SIS member who has recently received an award?  Email Jessica at jessica.almeida@umassd.edu and we will feature the member on the LISP/SR Blog!

Understanding Bias in Artificial Intelligence: How Algorithms Impact Our Patrons and Work

By The LISP-SIS Education Committee

Please join LISP-SIS on Friday, July 23rd at 10:15 am CDT for our sponsored program, Understanding Bias in Artificial Intelligence: How Algorithms Impact Our Patrons and Work.

This program has been curated by the LISP-SIS Education Committee, with the support of the LISP-SIS Executive Board. The speakers for this year’s program are outstanding and the conversation promises to be enlightening and practical.


  • Participants will be able to identify three ways in which artificial intelligence systems are biased.
  • Participants will be able to describe two ways in which this bias negatively impacts law library patrons.
  • Participants will be able to name two ways to support transparency and ethical algorithm design.

Now, more than ever, artificial intelligence (AI) affects people’s lives in significant ways. It is increasingly employed in housing, advertising, hiring, and the criminal justice system and is unquestionably fundamental to the current practice of law librarianship. Algorithms quietly make decisions without us knowing when or how they do it. While they can help us make sense of massive amounts of data, they can also misinterpret data and perpetuate bias. It is critical for law librarians to understand and raise awareness of AI bias and how it affects our patrons and our work. Panelists in the program will discuss various ways in which AI systems are biased, how this bias pervades the law, and what law librarians can do about these issues.

Coordinator: LISP-SIS Education Committee Co-chair, Rebecca Sherman, Librarian, US Courts Library, 9th Cir.

Moderator: LISP-SIS Education Committee Co-chair, Nicole P. Dyszlewski, Head of Reference, Instruction, & Engagement, Roger Williams University School of Law Library

Panelist: Darla Jackson, Research Librarian, University of Oklahoma Law Library

Panelist: Michael Katell, Postdoctoral Research Associate for Data Science and Ethics in the Criminal Justice System, The Alan Turing Institute

Panelist: Ishita Rustagi, Analyst, Business Strategies & Operations Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business