Doing, Not Waiting

Rural Law OfficeWhile the senior leadership of the Georgia Bar Association work on plans for a lawyer incubator (a small pilot program) and a rural lawyer assistance plan (now in the hands of the state legislature), the bar’s Young Lawyers Division have launched the Succession Planning Pilot Program with the idea of matching successful, practicing, small city or rural lawyers with young lawyers and recent graduates looking for positions.

The program leverages existing resources available at the state’s law school’s career services and addresses two of the chief concerns of a fledgling rural lawyer – the lack of mentors and the need to develop a sustainable practice – while giving established rural lawyers a pipeline of interested, qualified successors.

A Rural Lawyer tip of the hat to small town lawyer Sharon Edenfield for bringing this idea to fruition.

Mom, Apple Pie & Rural Lawyer Assistance

Even if one counts judges, prosecutors, public defenders, county and city attorneys and all the other categories of lawyers not generally available to the general public, there would still be 6 counties in Georgia that lack lawyers and a couple of dozen counties with fewer than 5 lawyers (see this article).

So, on Saturday, the State Bar of Georgia Board of Governors approved a plan to attract private civil attorneys to rural areas by offering state-funded repayment of law school loans to any attorney who moves to an underserved rural community. Even through the plan was described as “a great idea”, “a great idea”, and “mom & apple pie” it’s passage was not without some debate (see this article).

Frankly, these types of assistance programs are a good first step, but there needs to be more in place if young lawyers are going to succeed in rural practices; things like mentorship programs and community buy-in. It also would help if there were clear ethical guidelines on the use of technological innovations like client portals and virtual law offices. There needs to be an effort made to show the potential rural lawyer that practicing in a county that’s more pine barrens that people can be profitable, not just sustainable; that it can be a career rather than a set number of years of pro bono and ramen before moving on to better things and bigger law.

My hat’s off to the Georgia Bar for taking that first step. I wish them success and I hope they continue to help young lawyers build rural practices.

A Rare Species

Well, yesterday was the good news (see Canada, eh?), today, unfortunately, is the bad. Peralte C. Paul reports on the dearth of rural lawyers in rural Georgia in the August 30th edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. As Mr. Paul points out, the problem is not a numbers issues (after all there are some 28,000+ lawyers in Georgia) it is one of distribution and simple economics; 69% of the Georgia Bar practices within the 5 counties surrounding metro Atlanta, leaving just under 9000 lawyers spread across the remaining 154 counties and it’s not a uniform distribution – Mr. Paul reports there are 35 counties that have fewer than 4 practicing attorneys (and yes 0 is less than 4).

The article contends that, at its core, this due to simple economics. That without some form of incentive program (like those available to medical doctors), the majority of new lawyers are simply unable to afford to practice in rural counties. Seems that small populations with low annual incomes just don’t provide the type of steady client stream needed to meet the income needs of new lawyers trying to service their student loans.

The lack of access to any legal representation and the lack of access to affordable representation (when it is available)  is having a trickle-down effect in the form of increased workload for the Georgia Legal Services Program (70 lawyers, 11,000 cases), an increased reliance on the public defender system (and we know how under worked these lawyers are to begin with), and an increase in pro se litigants.

To read the full article, click here.