‘Twas a week when the muse had walked out the door when to my wondering Google search should appear not a human interest story on Fred Cozad (my apologies Mr. Moore). It seems that Mr. Cozad of Martin, South Dakota is, at age 85, beginning to contemplate retirement – an event worthy of mention in a local paper perhaps, but not something one would be reading about in the Republic of Columbus, Indiana (a fair piece from South Dakota) or hearing about on Minnesota Public Radio. What is of note is that Mr. Cozad is the last lawyer standing in Martin and when he closes shop, the 1000 or so people living there are looking at a 150 mile commute for legal representation.
The recurring theme for this blog is that the rural lawyer is a vanishing species – a bad thing if you happen to live in a small town and need a lawyer, a good thing if you’re an attorney looking for a job. Now, being the only attorney for the next 150 miles can be a good thing – selling your services is going to be a wee bit easier.
But, in the interest of complete disclosure, starting a rural practice is not just a matter of showing up – it is going to take time for you and your small town to connect and until you get over being the new kid in town income from your practice is going to be a bit lean.
As the rural bar is starting a fast descent towards extinction, state Bar Associations and law schools are beginning to take note. The South Dakota Bar has created a task force to help connect lawyers to small towns, the Iowa Bar is looking into loan forgiveness programs as well as programs to improve job placement for lawyer’s spouses as ways to attract and keep small town lawyers. Both the University of Nebraska College of Law and the North Dakota School of Law are developing coursework and mentoring programs targeted toward developing rural solo/small practice lawyers. So, for the lawyer willing to take a chance on a less traveled career path, help is out there.