Forseths offer legal services
Lawyers launch Rural Access to Justice
By Robert Cloud
Amanda Forseth was employed as a paralegal at the firm of Werner, Johnson and Hendrickson in New London when she worked on a case involving the condemnation of an elderly woman’s home.
“At that point, I realized that if people don’t have affordable access to justice, there’s not much they can do,” Forseth recalled.
Forseth, who had already earned a master’s degree in sociology from Western Michigan University in 2014, began attending Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. She graduated in 2020.
“I took and passed the bar exam with a 2-week-old and a 2 1/2-year-old boy,” Amanda Forseth said.
Sworn in to practice law at the Wisconsin Supreme Court in Madison on Sept. 2, Amanda and her husband, Robert Forseth, have a law practice in Waupaca called Rural Access to Justice (RAJ).
RAJ provides legal services to individuals and families whose incomes are up to 300% of the federal poverty line.
That equates to $78,000 for a household of four or $38,280 for an individual.
While defendants in a criminal case have a right to an attorney, and can be represented at no cost by a public defender, Robert Forseth noted that people in civil cases are not guaranteed legal representation.
RAJ handles family cases, landlord-tenant disputes, evictions, criminal defense, Medicaid and Social Security appeals, small claims, estate issues and real estate transactions.
The non-profit firm also helps other nonprofit groups with their legal needs.
Fees for RAJ legal services are available on a sliding scale basis.
RAJ provides reduced-rate legal representation to clients whose needs are not met by existing programs and who otherwise lack affordable access to legal counsel.
Robert Forseth described RAJ as low bono rather than pro bono.
While Judicare and Legal Action Wisconsin are federally funded nonprofit legal aid programs that tend to focus on urban areas, RAJ receives no federal funding and relies on client fees and donations, Robert Forseth said.
Attorneys needed in rural counties
Robert Forseth points to a growing shortage of lawyers in rural areas.
A report by Greater Wisconsin Initiative found that nearly 50% of the state’s attorneys live in the seven most populated cities.
“Only about 17% of lawyers consider themselves ‘rural’ lawyers,” according to the report.
Greater Wisconsin Initiative also found that the average age of lawyers practicing in rural counties often exceeds 60.
“Current trends indicate that as these attorneys reach retirement age, they are not being replaced, potentially leaving those residents with access to justice issues,” the report said.
The Forseths are currently practicing in Waupaca, Waushara, Portage and Shawano counties. However, they plan to expand their reach.
For more information, call 715-602-9755 or visit ruraljustice.org.