Even if one counts judges, prosecutors, public defenders, county and city attorneys and all the other categories of lawyers not generally available to the general public, there would still be 6 counties in Georgia that lack lawyers and a couple of dozen counties with fewer than 5 lawyers (see this article).
So, on Saturday, the State Bar of Georgia Board of Governors approved a plan to attract private civil attorneys to rural areas by offering state-funded repayment of law school loans to any attorney who moves to an underserved rural community. Even through the plan was described as “a great idea”, “a great idea”, and “mom & apple pie” it’s passage was not without some debate (see this article).
Frankly, these types of assistance programs are a good first step, but there needs to be more in place if young lawyers are going to succeed in rural practices; things like mentorship programs and community buy-in. It also would help if there were clear ethical guidelines on the use of technological innovations like client portals and virtual law offices. There needs to be an effort made to show the potential rural lawyer that practicing in a county that’s more pine barrens that people can be profitable, not just sustainable; that it can be a career rather than a set number of years of pro bono and ramen before moving on to better things and bigger law.
My hat’s off to the Georgia Bar for taking that first step. I wish them success and I hope they continue to help young lawyers build rural practices.
There is a new resource out there for rural lawyers and the communities they serve. Rural Law is setting out to simplify access to legal information and solutions to rural america and the small town lawyers who practice there.
Currently, the web site concentrates on providing legal resources for the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin. The site provides links to quality resources as well as contact information for small town lawyers. The contact information is a bit sparse, but Patrick Burns, the lawyer behind Rural Law, is continuously adding new information as he discovers it (if you are a small town lawyer, you may want to give him a call and help build the network).
Ol’ Virgil (the roman poet, not my local mechanic) sure had it right, since my last post, a great deal of time has escaped, irretrievably; a consequence of too many commitments and an inability to say no as often as I should. So, what I failed to note during the last quarter of 2014.
In December, the AP ran a story on the various efforts currently under way to attract lawyers to practice in rural areas. The focus of the story is on South Dakota, but programs in Nebraska and Arkansas get a brief mention as well. It’s great to hear that programs like the one in South Dakota are starting to produce results.
From the University of St. Thomas Law School, comes word of a law student’s discovery of the joys of small town practice. Ms. Price paint’s a great picture of the pros of clerking in a small town and how practicing in a small town is more of a labor of love than anything else.
Then there’s the flip side to all this – as Danielle Paquette reports, the lack of incoming rural lawyers means that the existing rural bar is delaying retirement and many rural clients are looking at two hour drives just to talk with a lawyer. In Nebraska, 12 counties have no lawyers and the Nebraska Bar Association along with the Nebraska Legislature is trying to do something about it. Their solution is twofold – a Rural Practice Loan Repayment Assistance Program and a better sales pitch – seems no one is telling law students about the opportunities that exist.
A tip of the hat to Justice Thomas G. Saylor – he started out as a small town lawyer and is now the Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Well, there was the odd gig as a county prosecutor, a deputy AG, and Supreme Court Justice along the way, but still not bad for starting out in rural Pennsylvania (see story here).
I’ll also note the passing of John Doar, a small town lawyer who died last November at the age of 92. Mr. Doar began his career in the small town of New Richmond, WI before moving on to the Justice Department and then to a New York law firm. In the 1960’s, Mr Doar helped shape the civil rights movement, as an assistant attorney general, he was the prosecutor in US v. Cecil Price et al. and he escorted James Meredith when Mr. Meredith became the first black student to enroll in the University of Mississippi. Mr. Doar was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.
For those of you who have moved from their libraries into the digital domain, Becoming a Rural Lawyer is now available for Kindle.
In related news, I see that a used copy of my book is currently being listed at $116.17. While I am flattered that someone out there values my little tome so highly, I’d just like to point out that list price is still only $28.50 for a brand-spanking new one (contact me if you want an autographed version). So, not only can my book help you get your small town practice up and running, it’s an appreciable asset as well.
Out here in the little law office on the prairie fall brings cooler weather, shorter days, and the rush to get crops in, equipment put up, and the homestead battened down for the up-coming winter. It’s a time when we relearn the lesson that firewood warms you 3 times – once when you cut it, once when you split it, and once when you burn it. Fall also seems to bring a upswing in inquires about rural practices as newly fledged lawyers (my congratulations on passing the bar) start to contemplate the possibility (inevitability?) of a solo or small firm practice. With that in mind, I offer a few answers to some frequently asked questions.
Is there a need for rural lawyers?
Well, I think so, but honestly it depends on the state. Some states, like South Dakota and Nebraska, are actively seeking rural lawyers while in others it’s going to be up to the individual lawyer to find a place to practice. But fear not, the demand is growing. The current crop of rural lawyers are fast approaching retirement and there are few replacements waiting in the wings. Continue reading Questions From The Gallery
I have a fondness for rural courts even though my entire experience with actual litigation has been limited to a few uncontested matters in which my chief role was to greet the judge, confirm that the opposing party had been properly notified and still was not present, and thank the judge when everything concluded. Perry Mason I’m not.
For me, rural courthouses and the people who staff them (professionals all) still engender a sense of respect for tradition, for the law. They seem to demand an older (perhaps antiquated) ideal of courtesy and gentile behavior; these are, after all dignified buildings that still command a place of pride in their communities.
When you get down to it, a rural law practice is a risk. It is about investing a great deal of capital (time, money, effort) into an enterprise that comes with no guarantee of immediate success. To succeed, you have to be willing to go “all in” on the belief that the cards you’ve got form a winning hand. It is about connecting with a community, building relationships and balancing the rural lawyer’s prime requirements – making a living and building a practice.
My best wishes to all of you – those who are in rural practice and those of you contemplating the plunge – you are needed out here.