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University tries to fill need for small-town lawyers

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS - Northern Kentucky University has started a new program to help connect graduates of its Chase College of Law with opportunities in small cities.

The Kentucky Enquirer reported that officials at NKU say they hope the regional placement program leads graduates to make choices similar to those of Heather Tackett, who graduated in 2012, served a year at Legal Aid in West Virginia, then started the Children's Law Center in Berea.

"I don't think there's really anybody in this area doing what I'm doing, securing these services that kids are entitled to," the 30-year-old Ashland native said.

The school says residents of some small towns and farming communities don't have easy access to basic legal services and the hope is that the new program helps bring about change.

"Too many of our rural markets and small towns are lacking a lawyer presence," said Bill Robinson, member-in-charge of Frost Brown Todd's Florence office and former president of the American Bar Association. "Kentucky is not unique. This is a national problem."

Chase "is addressing a public need that continues to be more pressing," Robinson said.

The move comes as the number of legal jobs decrease and schools, including Chase, are cutting enrollment. Next year, the school plans to cut 11 percent from its budget.

Chase Dean Jeffrey Standen said rural areas need specialists, such as Tackett, and "Main Street lawyers" who handle just about any type of case.

"These job openings often get no applicants," Standen said. "Students today see the bright lights of the big city and think that's where lawyering has to happen."

Although the school will help students make connections, it can't provide any financial incentives.

"We don't have the money for stipends," Standen said. "I can't use tuition dollars for that."

Tackett's position in Berea is funded through a private grant and most of her time is spent making sure children get the educational services they are entitled to.

"I grew up in Eastern Kentucky," she said. "I just saw firsthand the need that was there. A lot of people just need a voice. Just someone to hear them.

"It never really crossed my mind (to practice in a bigger city)," she said. "I didn't go to law school to be rich and make money. I went to law school to come back to the region I grew up in and help."

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