A Letter to a 1L

Dear Chris,

Thank you for your e-mail. It is quite heartening to know that there are other souls out there with an interest in practicing in rural communities. There is no one way or single resource that will best prepare you for a career as a rural lawyer – based on my conversations with rural lawyers from across the country, I am coming to the conclusion that each rural lawyer’s career is unique to that lawyer and to the community they serve. What I can offer are some general observations intertwined with a smattering of  “were I to do it over agains” .

Since you had a few questions about business management, I assume that you are considering embarking on a career as a rural solo (though don’t discount the value being well versed in business management will have to a existing small rural practice). There are a number of fine books out there that cover going solo from the lawyer’s perspective (Jay Foonberg’s How to Start and Build a Law Practice and Carolyn Elefant’s Solo by Choice spring to mind) but if you want to learn about the ins and outs of running a business get in touch with SCORE – they offer mentoring, webinars, newletters, guides and live classes all designed to help you start and grow a business; all provided at little to no cost by SCORE volunteers (working or retired business owners, executives and corporate leaders). I wish I had connected with SCORE about 12 months before I opened my practice rather than 12 months after.

As for preparing for the lawyering part – look to those parts of the law that interest you and direct your studies in those areas. The rural lawyer, once the epitome of the general practitioner, is now becoming much more of a specialist – though it may be a general sort of specialization where probate work leads to estate planning which in turn leads to real estate work which leads back to probate work. For those rural attorneys with an interest in criminal law, it is quite common to find them spending the early years of their practice working for a county prosecutor’s office or clerking for a county judge.

You asked for some suggestions as to what you should be doing for summer opportunities – well, were I starting out as a 1L I would:

  • Have some idea of which small town/towns I want to practice in. Knowing where you want to practice can often influence your decisions on the type of law you want to practice – think “niche”; your small town may not be able to support another criminal lawyer, but it sure could use a family practitioner. Look before you leap.
  • Start building contacts within the business and legal communities of “my small town” these are going to be your referral sources and possible mentors. Get an idea how your small town works and how you can fit in with the business community.
  • See what internship opportunities are available – don’t limit this search to your small town – check what is available in similar communities around your small town. Check with the county judges, could any of them use a volunteer clerk for a month or so? How about the county prosecutor? How about the county legal aid? Yes, I know that paid work would be preferred, but in these days of vastly reduced budgets and strained court resources, being a willing volunteer may open far more doors and get far more opportunities in the long term.
  • Get in touch with SCORE and start learning about business management.

Best of luck to you.