Rural Lawyer Bill Now Law

South Dakota leads the way in recruiting rural lawyers. House Bill 1096 is now law and makes South Dakota the first state to have legislation designed to encourage lawyers to practice in rural areas.

Any South Dakota county with a 10,000 population or less and any attorney licensed in South Dakota is eligible to take part in the 4 year pilot program. The program provides a yearly incentive payment to the attorney and the attorney agrees to practice in the eligible county for at least 5 years. The pilot program is capped at 16 attorneys and enrollment closes on July 1, 2017.

The RuralLawyer Book

Becoming A Rural Lawyer - A Personal Guide to Establishing a Small Town Practice by Bruce CameronWell, it’s official – Becoming a Rural Lawyer is here. Like RuralLawyer the blog, RuralLawyer the book is designed to help you decide if you’re meant to practice in the 128,000 small towns dotting the US landscape. Becoming a Rural Lawyer looks at the myths of practicing in small towns, discusses emerging areas of rural practice, talks about the rhythms and (unwritten) rules of small town life, and  includes advice, tips, and words of wisdom from rural lawyers from across the US.

Becoming a Rural Lawyer is available through Amazon.com (where I welcome your impressions of the book).

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.

Solo by Choice – The New Release

How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.Henry David Thoreau

Yesterday, Carolyn Elefant announced that the second edition of her book Solo by Choice (actually it is a two volume set – there is also a companion volume entitled, appropriately, Solo by Choice, The Companion Guide). In a nutshell, Solo by Choice 2011-2012 brings the original work into the age of Social Media, Cloud Computing and the realities of being a post-2008 economic collapse solo attorney and adds to Carolyn’s remarkably lucid and thoughtful prose the voices of other solo attorneys – basically, Carolyn explains the theory, the greek chorus provides a bit of in-the-trenches reality.

For anyone thinking about starting a solo practice, there are two must read books – Jay Foonberg’s How to Start & Build a Law Practice and Carolyn’s Solo by Choice. In my opinion, Carolyn’s book has always been the more accessible of the two and has been much more relevant to this rural solo – I’ve found that her take on things finds more resonance with my rural clients (perhaps its just that she’s just better at explaining things in ways I understand).

This new edition maintains those qualities – Carolyn’s text is still a joy to read; yet I am of two minds about the material provided by those other solos. I like having other voices, other explanations of the whys, wherefores and what-works and think its great to have those been-there-done-that experiences as object lessons. Unfortunately I find that the change in the “voice” of the work slows the flow of my reading.

Now, this new edition is not all roses and Skittles. There are a few places where a little tighter editing would have caught the odd typo – this is more apparent in the companion volume where the answers to the 34 questions read as if they were taken verbatim from an interview. While this doesn’t really affect the books’ readability, its does make them seem slightly less polished. But this is a minor nit – my biggest concern is that my copy of the new edition will become as dog-eared, tattered, and abused as my copy of the original.

A Letter to a 1L

Dear Chris,

Thank you for your e-mail. It is quite heartening to know that there are other souls out there with an interest in practicing in rural communities. There is no one way or single resource that will best prepare you for a career as a rural lawyer – based on my conversations with rural lawyers from across the country, I am coming to the conclusion that each rural lawyer’s career is unique to that lawyer and to the community they serve. What I can offer are some general observations intertwined with a smattering of  “were I to do it over agains” .

Since you had a few questions about business management, I assume that you are considering embarking on a career as a rural solo (though don’t discount the value being well versed in business management will have to a existing small rural practice). There are a number of fine books out there that cover going solo from the lawyer’s perspective (Jay Foonberg’s How to Start and Build a Law Practice and Carolyn Elefant’s Solo by Choice spring to mind) but if you want to learn about the ins and outs of running a business get in touch with SCORE – they offer mentoring, webinars, newletters, guides and live classes all designed to help you start and grow a business; all provided at little to no cost by SCORE volunteers (working or retired business owners, executives and corporate leaders). I wish I had connected with SCORE about 12 months before I opened my practice rather than 12 months after. Continue reading