Greater MN Project

By Michael Carlson posted 03-15-2019 09:40

Here are updates to five new visualizations produced by the MSBA and our good friend and colleague, Armen Stromquist (also, full disclosure: Armen is my stepson and he's in St. Thomas' data analytics master's program). We welcome your feedback, tips, and other thoughts. 

  1. Minnesota Attorneys: This map plots all attorneys in Minnesota based on address data found in the Minnesota Supreme Court database of active attorneys. Active attorneys include any attorney with a CLE code of 1,2, or 3 and NOT those who have been voluntarily or involuntarily restricted. We also limited to attorneys with Minnesota addresses.
    Last year, we processed zip codes only. This year, the Greater MN Section requested individual plots and this is a different geocoding challenge. We first had quite a bit of work to do, organizing and standardizing the data (St. Paul and Saint Paul are not the same places, for example). Then, we used the US Census' geocoding tool which enabled us to plot about 98% of the addresses. We're still not perfect. You'll spot some errant plots (filter for 55402, for example). But, we're getting very close now.

    One other thing to keep in mind is that 'active' attorneys serve in a broad range of roles. Some are public attorneys, others private. An article by our One Profession keynote speaker notes that while 20% of Americans live in rural communities, only 2% of small law firms serve there. So, while the map's missing 'puzzle pieces' might demonstrate the presence of 'legal deserts', it likely overstates the availability legal services in some rural residents. The MSBA has practice setting data for members, not for nonmembers. About 60% of MN attorneys are MSBA members so we didn't include this data.

  2. Attorneys per 1,000 persons by county: Last year's visualization included the ratio of attorneys to household by county. This year we opted for attorneys per 1,000 individuals. Once we reverse the colors (currently, the lower values are darker), the visualizations should look very similar. In both cases, use the slider to filter the map for average years in practice.


  3. Broadband Access by County: This map was also requested Greater Minnesota section of the MSBA. The section's chair, @Barbara Heen reminds us that technology is not an A2J solution for folks who can't access the internet. This map measures the percentage of the population by county with 'broadband' access defined, in this case, as download speeds of at least 25 Mbps and upload speeds of at least 3 Mbps. Data source: MN Employment and Economic Development. We'll continue to work on the navigability of this map and I see we need to reduce the opacity of the attorney plots.
  4. Years in Practice by County: This map simply updates last year's visualization.


  5. "Access Score" Map: This map is our least developed but it's the one I'm most excited about. We are trying to address the problem of 'distance,' broadly defined. Using county boundaries is an imperfect solution for visualizing the challenges related to access to legal services. The experiences of attorneys and consumers in northern St. Louis County are wildly different than those folks residing in Duluth. So here, we used ZIP code boundaries, averaged the distance between attorneys, divided by the attorney population in that ZIP code and assigned an "access score." Now, there are plenty of issues with this approach. See St. Paul Park, for example. It looks like an island of negative access but the proximity of neighboring communities should boost its score. It does not because we rely on ZIP code boundaries exclusively. Whereas the county boundaries are too broad, ZIP code boundaries are too narrow. For now, these boundaries are a proxy for what we are ultimately after - a score based on a number of factors including distance (which we now know how to measure) as well as accessibility to transit and broadband access. So, stay tuned.