Field Trips and Incentives

382606_3276Today’s Leader Post reports on the University of Saskatchewan’s efforts to recruit rural lawyers.

The lack of rural lawyers is not just a problem here in the US; the root causes – population shifts away from rural areas, practicing rural lawyers looking at retirement and practices closing because there is no successor – are not localized phenomenon.

The article reports on the University’s efforts to address 2 problems common to rural lawyer recruitment: a lack of familiarity with available opportunities, and the siren song of a big city practice. While the University’s College of Law is just beginning to address the later issue (the preliminary ideas seem to be focused on some form of loan forgiveness and modeled after a program the Saskatchewan government offers medical students), the school is actively addressing the former by providing day trips to rural areas for interested students.

Rural law practices don’t happen simply because a lawyer hangs out a shingle. They happen by building a connection to the community; it’s basically about being the right person in the right place at the right time and frankly, the only way to find the right place is to go out and spend time in rural areas and small towns (find the right place and you become the right person). Now, unless there is a sign from above – lightning flashes, thunder booms – a day trip is really not enough time to evaluate a rural area (if they know yo are coming, just about anyone can be charming for a few hours) but it is enough time to make a few connections, to collect some contact information, to start thinking about opportunities, and perhaps to plan for the next trip.

Canada, eh?

In this month’s Canadian Lawyer, Bruce LeRose has an excellent article on the ongoing demise of rural lawyers in British Columbia and the steps the B.C. branch of the Canadian Bar Association is taking to try to encourage new lawyers to take on the challenges of rural practice. Mr. LeRose points out two of the more serious factors contributing to the demise of the species: the march toward specialization (small towns simply don’t have the work to support the boutique lawyer – it’s breadth not depth that pays the bills) and the closure of small town courts (a problem that is rapidly marching toward my neck of the woods as the legislature’s economic priorities don’t include a fully funded judiciary). But for all the doom and gloom, there is hope.

The bright spot is that the B.C. Bar’s Rural Education and Access Program (REAL). Thanks to REAL, rural law firms are starting to hire new staff and about a third of those new hires are students or new lawyers. Through REAL, students are being introduced to rural law firms, the advantages of rural practice (networking is easier, overhead is lower, and success comes quickly through hard work and passion), and the personal benefits of small town living (an improved work-life balance, a family friendly supportive environment).

To read the full text of the article, click here.

Monday’s Gleanings

A few bits gathered from across the web:

  • The Career Services Office (CSO) at the University of British Columbia Faculty of Law provides this information interview lawyer Mike Akerly. Mr. Akerly started his career as a small town lawyer.
  • It appears that I’ve missed the performance dates, but it is still good to see that the most famous fictional small town lawyer in America is once again receiving rave reviews in Sag Harbor, NY, in the Bay Street Theater‘s performance of To Kill a Mockingbird.
  • For those of you interested in another small town lawyer’s perspective, J. Burton Hunter III is offering just that in his blog “A Small Town Lawyer’s Perspective“. Mr. Hunter is a bit more direct with his prose than I, but is still a good read (if you want to peruse another opinionated rural lawyer’s blog).


So Owl wrote…and this is what he wrote: HIPY PAPY BTHUTHDTH THUTHDA BTHUTHDY. Pooh looked on admiringly. “I’m just saying ‘A Happy Birthday,'” said Owl carelessly. — A. A. Milne

October has swept all most all of her color from the trees and Rural Lawyer now turns 3; which in technological terms is early middle age (at least by Moore’s law standards). One would think that this momentous occasion would be marked by public fanfare and wild acclaim, but alas the world has continued with nary a pause, blithely unaware.

On to other things — reports that British Columbia has opened a new law school (the first in 30 years) with the mission of addressing British Columbia’s rural lawyer shortage. The article reports that British Columbia Chief Justice Lance Finch has suggested that the bar will need to double admissions to meet the demand for lawyers. The article notes that the lawyer shortage does not extend to metropolitan Canada.

Where, oh where are you tonight?

Where, oh where, are you tonight?
Why did you leave me here all alone?
I searched the world over, and I thought I’d found true love,
You met another, and PFFT! You was gone!Marian B. Yarneall

The rural lawyer may not be your true love, but it does seem that they are going PFFT! The good news, according to this article in the Argus Leader and this one in the Rapid City Journal, is that at least one state bar association is taking notice of the problem and starting to do something about it. The South Dakota Bar is creating Project Rural Practice to address that state’s decline in rural lawyers and, in conjunction with community leaders, to find incentives that will attract lawyers to the small towns of rural South Dakota. Many, many kudos to the South Dakota Bar.

Now, I’m one of those people who think that packing up and heading to rural South Dakota to practice law would be an interesting adventure (but then I’m also of the opinion that good neighbors are live a quarter-mile away, it is feasible to raise a calf (for a brief period) in your kitchen, and that starting a solo practice in a recession is a boffo career move), thus my idea of an incentive may be a bit biased and more readily negotiated than those of a normal person.

What would incite you, dear reader, to pack it up and head to the wind-swept prairie? Some things to consider after the break.

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