Becoming A Rural Lawyer - A Personal Guide to Establishing a Small Town Practice by Bruce CameronFor 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.Rural Lawyer FAQ

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. (more…)

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.

From the Rural Lawyering 101 videos:

This particular clip was the result of a bit of serendipity; I had recently been in an e-mail conversation with a pre-law student interested in eventually starting a rural practice and how one might choose a suitable law school to achieve this laudable goal.

Well, spring sprang. We’ve had our state of grace and our little gift of sanctioned madness, courtesy of Mother Nature. Thanks, Gaia. Much obliged. I guess it’s time to get back to that daily routine of living we like to call normal. — David Assael

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms around the Tidal Basin, Carol M. Highsmith photographer, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-HS503- 2730

According to the calendar here in the little law office on the prairie, it’s spring and time for a rural lawyer to turn his thoughts to those glorious rites of tax preparation, spring cleaning, and the next year’s budget. The only saving grace is that ol’ Mother Nature has, once again, plunged us into the freezer with sub-zero wind chills and a dusting of snow and ice thus lending her encouragement to these hedonistic pleasures.

Spring is also the time when rural law firm’s thoughts turn to the hiring of new associates, so if you are looking to make the move to a small town law firm, now is the time to dust off the résumé and amp up the networking.

If you don’t mind the cold and snow, the grapevine has it that a few small town law firms here in Minnesota that are looking for new associates – Over in Northfield, the firm of Grundhoefer & Ludescher is looking for an entry level associate (contact David Ludescher, deadline is April 21st), In New Ulm, the Legal Professionals are looking for an associate with some experience in the areas of estate planning, business law, probate and real estate (deadline is April 18th), and the Schnitker Law Office in Spring Lake Park is looking for an associate with 2-4 years experience in civil practice, particularly in eminent domain and real estate (contact Kirk Schnitker, deadline is March 28th).

The opportunities are out there folks and a rural practice does not always mean a solo practice. Have a great spring.

real estate signs

J. Vachon, photographer, Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, LC-USF34-063713-D

While buying an existing practice is not for the faint of wallet, it can be a way to bootstrap your small town legal career. An existing practice comes equipped with community connections, a client base, the possibility of an in-house (or at least in-town) mentor, and existing overhead. Just because the average rural law firm buyer is an established lawyer looking for a quieter place for a solo career, this does not mean that the newly graduated shouldn’t consider this option (just be sure your financial ducks are in a row).

Before shopping for a practice, its a good idea to do a bit of planning before hand. Have some idea of where you’d like to practice, the type of practice you’d like (it is hard to change the course of an existing small town practice – your clients will have certain expectations and these are not going to change overnight just because you’d rather do estate planning than family law), and the type of deal you’d like (what will the transition period be like & how long will the seller stay on with the firm, how payments will be made, etc).

Once you have an idea of the where, what, and how and have located a few potentials, it is time to do your due diligence. You’ll need to find out things like: just how much of the practice’s book of business is transferrable,  how the firm obtains new clients (is this all due to the reputation of one individual?), the percentage of referrals, the percentage of repeat clients, the firm’s overhead, and the method used to determine the firm’s value, just to name a few.

It takes a great deal of hard work and out of the box thinking to track down and get into the right existing practice, but it is possible – it is even possible to structure a deal that requires little upfront cash (granted these deals usually require extended payment periods, balloon payments or payments based on future revenue).

If you don’t mind being out here in the frozen prairie, there’s a nice little real estate/estate planing/municipal law practice for sale over by the Mississippi river. If you’re interested, give Roy Ginsberg (roy(at)royginsburg(dot)com) at shout. Roy’s not the one selling, he’s simply acting on behalf of the owner.

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