April 17, 2013
Today’s Leader Post reports on the University of Saskatchewan’s efforts to recruit rural lawyers.
The lack of rural lawyers is not just a problem here in the US; the root causes – population shifts away from rural areas, practicing rural lawyers looking at retirement and practices closing because there is no successor – are not localized phenomenon.
The article reports on the University’s efforts to address 2 problems common to rural lawyer recruitment: a lack of familiarity with available opportunities, and the siren song of a big city practice. While the University’s College of Law is just beginning to address the later issue (the preliminary ideas seem to be focused on some form of loan forgiveness and modeled after a program the Saskatchewan government offers medical students), the school is actively addressing the former by providing day trips to rural areas for interested students.
Rural law practices don’t happen simply because a lawyer hangs out a shingle. They happen by building a connection to the community; it’s basically about being the right person in the right place at the right time and frankly, the only way to find the right place is to go out and spend time in rural areas and small towns (find the right place and you become the right person). Now, unless there is a sign from above – lightning flashes, thunder booms – a day trip is really not enough time to evaluate a rural area (if they know yo are coming, just about anyone can be charming for a few hours) but it is enough time to make a few connections, to collect some contact information, to start thinking about opportunities, and perhaps to plan for the next trip.
April 10, 2013
It seems that, thanks to HB 1096 South Dakota’s attempt at rural lawyer recruitment is riding high in the press and the blogosphere. Seems that everyone from the New York Times to the ABA Journal are reporting on it. Even Above the Law is throwing their two cents in.
The various responses seem to be a mixed bag, which is to be expected; after all at first glance $12,000 yearly stipend for a 5 year term in a rural county (and in South Dakota, rural is rural) seems like a poor trade. But, this really isn’t designed to recruit just any lawyer, it is designed to encourage South Dakota grown young lawyers to head out to those under-served counties. While $12,000 does not seem like a terribly large incentive, at the end of 5 years, that $60,000 could make a serious dent in one’s student loans.
Nor is does this seem to be an attempt to reformulate legal education along the lines of medical school. It does seem to be taking an idea from a program that works (seems its harder to get doctors to practice in rural communities then it is to get lawyers out there) in order to address at least one concern (how do I pay my loans) new lawyers have about heading out on their own.
March 27, 2013
South Dakota leads the way in recruiting rural lawyers. House Bill 1096 is now law and makes South Dakota the first state to have legislation designed to encourage lawyers to practice in rural areas.
Any South Dakota county with a 10,000 population or less and any attorney licensed in South Dakota is eligible to take part in the 4 year pilot program. The program provides a yearly incentive payment to the attorney and the attorney agrees to practice in the eligible county for at least 5 years. The pilot program is capped at 16 attorneys and enrollment closes on July 1, 2017.
February 11, 2013
So, what does a state do when 65% of the state’s lawyers practice in 4 of the 66 counties and 19 counties have 2 or fewer practicing lawyers. Well, if you are the South Dakota Senate, you float a plan to subsidize law student tuition in return for a promise that these students will open a practice in a small town or rural county.
It’s a cool idea – the county in need ponies up 1/3 of the student’s school fees, the state’s Unified Judicial System covers the remainder and the student contracts to keep their grades up and upon graduating to live and practice in the supporting county for a set number of years – and, a good start to reversing the declining rural lawyer population – let’s hope it passes.
But realistically, this is just a first step (a good one, but a first one). It will take more than simply releasing a few dozen newly fledged lawyers out into the wild. If these future rural lawyers are to have a fighting chance to develop a thriving practice, they’ll need more than a debt-free education; these new lawyers are going to need mentors, help with the administrative side of things, and a good education in keeping their overhead low. I’m betting the SD Bar has some ideas on how to solve these problems as well.
Tip of the hat to The Daily Republic for reporting on this.
October 17, 2012
I must admit that I’ve never given a great deal of thought to the entire scope of a rural lawyer’s role in their community. After all, much of my focus has been on developing my practice, providing an effective service to my clients, and trying to make a profit without gaining too many new gray hairs, or going noisily insane and running amok though the neighbor’s corn fields. Fortunately, the folks over at SD Rural Lawyer have put some thought into the subject and have posted about the rural lawyer’s role as a catalyst for community development.
It appears that the small town lawyer can have an impact on their community beyond being a potential employer or the dollar recapture of shopping for office supplies locally. The article notes that the rural lawyer is in a unique position within the rural community; he brings a highly (one hopes) trained mind, an uncommon skill set and through the course of his practice develops a large network of social connections, an intimate awareness of his community’s and client’s needs, and an awareness of community dynamics. It is the synergy of all of these factors that can allow the rural lawyer to act as a catalyst for community development.
Read the complete article, it is a fascinating look at what else rural lawyers can do.