We introduce "rural legal deserts" or rural areas experiencing attorney shortages, as a meaningful health determinant. We demonstrate that the absence of rural attorneys has significant impacts on public health-impacts that are rapidly exacerbated by COVID-19. Our work builds on recent scholarship that underscores the public health relevance of attorneys in civil and criminal contexts. It recognizes attorneys as crucial to interprofessional health care teams and to establishing equitable health-related laws and policies. Attorney interventions transform institutional practices and help facilitate the stability necessary for health maintenance and recovery. Yet, critically, many rural residents cannot access legal supports. As more individuals experience unemployment, eviction, and insecure benefits amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a need for attorneys to address these social determinants of health as legal needs. Accordingly, the growing absence of attorneys in the rural United States proves particularly consequential-because of this pandemic context but also because of rural health disparities. We argue that unless a collaborative understanding of these interrelated phenomena is adopted, justice gaps will continue to compound rural health inequities.
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