There are certain presumptions that spring to mind when one hears the phrase “small town lawyer”; the stereotype seems to be a lawyer (himself a strange amalgamation of Matlock, Atticus Finch, Lincoln, and Oliver Wendell Holmes) who has set up shop in some bucolic backwoods town and divides his time between tending to client matters and whittling. The trouble is that an exact definition of the breed is hard to come by; well the “lawyer” part is fairly simple, it’s that “small town” part that gives one fits. Even the US Census Bureau has problems with defining what a small town is, preferring to use classifications like “micropolitean” (a rural area that contains at least one urban area with a population of at least 10,000) or “place” (a territory, population, or housing unit not classified as urban or designated as an extended city). It’s always nice to know that one’s place in the world is defined more by what one is not that what one is.
Even my definition of the small town lawyer – the lawyer practicing beyond suburbia’s sprawl – is fairly generic, and when you consider Michael Sylvester’s argument, perhaps a bit short sighted. Mr. Sylvester practices in Shenzhen, China a bustling metropolis of 10+ million (not exactly the first place that springs to mind when one thinks “small town”) providing services to the Shenzhen expatriate community – a small (500,000?) city within the larger community. Now out here on the prairie, when a half-million people congregate in one spot we tend to consider that either a metropolis or a really fine turnout for the church potluck (everybody bring a dish to pass), but in a country of 1.3 billion, in a town of 10 million, 500,000 must seem like a tiny drop in a very large bucket.