Thinking About a Rural Practice?

Great, we need more lawyers out here in the wilds of rural America, but before you go trading in your Ferragamo’s for a set of gumboots, there are some things you need to consider.

First, the general expectation is going to be that as the “new kid” you’re going to have to adapt to the community and its ways. After all, they were there first and, for the most part, like things the way they are just fine thank you. But don’t worry, the new wears off in time, typically 2 to 3 generations unless you do something so spectacularly beyond community expectations that everyone in the community takes notice. The latter typically earns you a nickname that in some way commemorates the event. Until then, get used to referring to your house as the “Ol’ Jones’ Place” and direct people to your office by telling them you’ve set up in the “Mercantile”

Second, rural living brings its own stresses and sensory annoyances. Farmers typically operate from can see to can’t see (if weather threatens will work beyond that) and the roar of a diesel engine working under load can carry for miles on a clear night. So if you find the sound of a neighbor’s leaf blower annoying, the bass drone of a tractor and the tenor whine of a combine at 1:00 AM are sure to get under your skin. Among the many smells unique to rural life, from the metallic tang of herbicides/pesticides to the dirty burnt musk of diesel exhaust,  there is the uniqueness of a field covered with fresh-spread manure on a mid-July afternoon. it’s less an odor (though, with practice, you can identify the producing species by its “signature” scent) than it is a physical presence. While rural areas lack the gridlocked, 30-minutes-to-go-5-miles rush hour of major population centers, being behind a tractor going flat out down a 2 lane road is an exercise in patience at 16 mph.

Finally, remember: not it not always cheaper in the country. There are some costs to a rural practice that cannot be easily deferred or avoided. Expect to drive more as courts, law libraries, bar association meetings, and CLEs are further away. Because the shared office suite and virtual office concepts have not reached past the urban cores, some type of office space becomes a necessity. Office space tends to be a rare commodity in rural areas, so expect to pay a premium for a quality location. In all likelihood the only things available will be either former retail storefront locations or older homes, so expect to do some remodeling as well. Occasionally alternatives can be found (rent a room from the local bank, city hall, or library, work out of your home) but these may not be available on a regular schedule or on short notice, or be acceptable to your clients/spouse/family. Expect to pay a premium for cell phone service, high speed internet (if available at all), and phone service; the major providers have poor coverage in most rural areas so you’ll be using a single, small, local provider.

Are these costs worth it? This former city-boy thinks so, provided you go into it with your eyes wide open.

Previously in this series: