It has been pointed out to me that, perhaps, one reason lawyers are not flocking to small towns is that a spouse or significant other may be reluctant to leave their career behind. Fair enough; jobs are tough to come by in this economy and it is perfectly understandable that someone would prefer keeping a sure thing over haring off into the middle of nowhere – even if it is a particularly scenic middle of nowhere. But this may not be the hurdle it appears to be. So if your SO is still talking to you after you first broached the idea of a rural practice, here are a few options:
Commute – lots of folks commute to work. There are a couple of ways to work the commute thing. You can live in the small town and your SO can battle rush hour traffic or stay in the city and you head out to your rural practice. The trick here is finding a small town that is close enough to the city to be a comfortable commute but not close enough to be a “bedroom” community. Folks that live in those bedroom communities are far to accustomed to traveling into town for their needs – setting up a practice here means that you are going to be competing against the city lawyers for business; it’s doable, but why add an additional layer of complexity to things.
Telecommute – small towns are not, necessarily, the technological deserts they were a decade ago; high-speed internet, fiber-optic voice lines and overnight delivery services are slowly penetrating rural America. So if your SO is one of the 50 million American workers eligible to telecommute and you pick the right small town perhaps this would option would open the door to your rural law career. In this case, the “right small town” is likely to be within a reasonable drive (say 90 minutes +/-) of the city and will likely be close to a major road (I’d say major highway, but that phrase tends to bring to mind the interstate highway system and not the sometimes 2 sometimes 4 lane highways that typically connect small towns to the rest of the world). This allows for the occasional commute into the city and increases the likelihood that there will be high-tech in this small town.
Work outward – while it is more common for second career lawyers than those starting their first, it is possible to develop a rural practice from a suburban office – I call it practicing outward from the edge of suburbia. The advantages are that you attract both city clients and rural clients (often the income from the city clients is what keeps the wolf at bay while you build the rural side of things) and you have a support system to fall back on (urban bars tend to be much more active than rural bars – hey spread 10 lawyers over 8 counties and you find it’s hard to have weekly meetings). The disadvantages are that you are competing with the city lawyers for city clients, you’ll spend a lot of time on the road building and maintaining your rural referral networks, and (unless you are living in the small town) you’ll have to deal with the fact you won’t be a local – the average small town client considers lawyers to be fungible; the order of preference seems to be: the local one, the one you know personally, the one a friend knows, the one the one you know refers you to, any one of the rest.
*’cause the phrase “if mama ain’t happy” is just so over used.