Sanctioned Madness

Well, spring sprang. We’ve had our state of grace and our little gift of sanctioned madness, courtesy of Mother Nature. Thanks, Gaia. Much obliged. I guess it’s time to get back to that daily routine of living we like to call normal. — David Assael

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms around the Tidal Basin, Carol M. Highsmith photographer, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-HS503- 2730

According to the calendar here in the little law office on the prairie, it’s spring and time for a rural lawyer to turn his thoughts to those glorious rites of tax preparation, spring cleaning, and the next year’s budget. The only saving grace is that ol’ Mother Nature has, once again, plunged us into the freezer with sub-zero wind chills and a dusting of snow and ice thus lending her encouragement to these hedonistic pleasures.

Spring is also the time when rural law firm’s thoughts turn to the hiring of new associates, so if you are looking to make the move to a small town law firm, now is the time to dust off the résumé and amp up the networking.

If you don’t mind the cold and snow, the grapevine has it that a few small town law firms here in Minnesota that are looking for new associates – Over in Northfield, the firm of Grundhoefer & Ludescher is looking for an entry level associate (contact David Ludescher, deadline is April 21st), In New Ulm, the Legal Professionals are looking for an associate with some experience in the areas of estate planning, business law, probate and real estate (deadline is April 18th), and the Schnitker Law Office in Spring Lake Park is looking for an associate with 2-4 years experience in civil practice, particularly in eminent domain and real estate (contact Kirk Schnitker, deadline is March 28th).

The opportunities are out there folks and a rural practice does not always mean a solo practice. Have a great spring.

Where the Lawyers Aren’t

Distribution of Lawyers in Minnesota

Minnesota Lawyers by Zip Code. Pin color relates to count – violet = 1,  blue = 2, green = 3-5 yellow = 6-16, orange = 17 – 70, red = 71+

When it comes to the shortage of rural lawyers and the whole access to justice issue, Minnesota is not the first state that pops to mind. After all, the raw numbers would tend to indicate that there’s not much of a lawyer problem here in the land of 10,000 lakes; after all there are some 11.2 lawyers per 10,000 residents which puts us 12th in the nation (based on the currently available Avery Index). Especially when we look at the situation in our neighboring states: Iowa (6.2 per 10,000, rank 46), Wisconsin (6.8 per 10,000, rank 45), North Dakota (4.4 per 10,000, rank 51), and South Dakota (5.8 per 10,000, rank 48). But I’m not sure that the raw numbers really tell the whole story – it’s not so much a matter of how many, as it is a matter of where (and how old).  So, I took a look at the where the lawyers really are (or aren’t) here in Minnesota based on Zip Code (a task far easier than trying to sort things out by county). Granted the resultant map is a bit crude (those darn Google Earth pins really don’t scale well), but it serves to illustrate some of the gaps out beyond the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. The basic gist being that as one moves away from the metro area, law firms become smaller, fewer, and more dispersed.

Admittedly, my data is somewhat crude; I am looking at raw counts and I am not compensating for lawyers who are retired, who are otherwise not taking private clients (e.g.: in-house counsel, in politics, teaching, etc.), or a slew of other variables (data overlap, doubled counts, correcting for outliers, etc.) so don’t for a moment think this is in any way statistically rigorous or significant.

As I look at this map, there are two things that strike me. The first being that I’d like to know the age of those violet, blue and green dots out beyond the metro cluster. Based on my observations, odds are about a third of them are within 5 years of retirement (if not already retired – remember, for the rural lawyer retirement usually means you spend slightly less time in the office and slightly more time fishing – unless of course you move to a sun belt state) and another third have the midpoint of their career in their review mirror and are starting to think about succession planning and eventual retirement. The other thing is that access to justice is as much about income as it is about distribution. Just as lack of income can great an access desert” in the midst of a lawyer-dense metro area, so, too, can a simple lack of lawyers. The only good news is that it is far easier to fix the latter (and potentially more profitable for the lawyers involved) than it is to fix the former.