Rural Compensation

Fall is in full swing out here where the big woods meets the prairie and that means harvest is in full swing and that means that, with the exception of all things relating to football, grain yields, market prices, profits and losses are the primary topics of most casual conversations. The fall months also see an uptick in the rural lawyering business as clients look to close those little, optional matters like estate planning while the weather is still pleasant and cash comes a bit more readily to hand. Profits, losses and budgets are on a rural lawyer’s hit parade as well, for fall also brings sales reps for the phone books, the local school sports teams sponsorship opportunities, and the requests for various and sundry donations – everyone is aware of when cash is flowing through the community.

This fall, a small town lawyer passed away. I didn’t know him and were it not for the internet, I would have never heard of his passing. However, serendipity, the season, and the vagaries of a Google search led me to a small obituary in the Valley News Dispatch and got me thinking about how rural lawyers are paid. It’s true that a rural lawyer’s net income is less, perhaps substantially less than that of our big city, big firm counterparts – a fact that we hope is balanced by the fact that the cost of living is lower for those of us out here in the sticks. But does net income really sum up the totality of a rural practice’s earnings or is there something more to a rural lawyer’s compensation?

skyscrapers and smog anyone?

Now, I’ve never had the privilege of seeing a city sky line from a high-rise corner office and I must admit that my desk now sits in a window-less room in a building perched perilously close to the city limits and the ragged edges of suburbia, but when I step outside at the end of the day, I am rewarded with views like this:

It may just be me, but this always comes down as a plus in the compensation column.

But it is a couple of lines at the bottom of those few column inches spent on the passing of a lawyer that stick with me. The lines read in part: “The Valley News Dispatch will occasionally run obituary stories on notable local residents. They are news items…” In small towns, lawyers make a difference and their passing is newsworthy, not just noted by a paid listing in the back of the classifieds. Those column inches do more than simply mark the death of a small town lawyer, they’re the last installment on his compensation package.

Rest in peace Mr. Ambrose and thank you.