Short Takes

It was one of those perfect English autumnal days which occur more frequently in memory than in life. -- P. D. James

Once again, the rural clock has cycled back to the season of hurry-up when shortened days and the chill of night (those sure harbingers of winter) tell us that it is time to finish up the harvest chores while it is still possible to work outside without wearing insulated garments. So, farmstead maintenance has taken priority over the weekly posting  and temporarily damped the blogging muse – it appears that scrubbing a season’s worth of dust, oil, and grease from heavy equipment does not lend itself to the same contemplative frame of mind that driving said equipment slow over a field does. Given that inspiration and originality appear to be temporarily on hiatus, here are a few items from across the web that caught my eye:

  • Debra Bruce gives a small plug for considering small town practice on the Solo Practice University‘s blog in her post “Deciding Where to Locate Your Law Practice, Part 2.” Have to admit that Debra sums up paradox of small towns pretty well – collegial and welcoming once they know you, closed and standoffish when they don’t. The trick is to be collegial and welcoming first – make that first effort to get to know the town, ’cause if you wait for the town it’s gonna take a while.
  • BYU honors Elder Steven E. Snow for his 30 year career as a small town lawyer. His law firm may have merged with an up scale metropolitan firm in 2003, if you’ve ever been paid in quits, produce or trampolines you’re a rural lawyer. Congratulations Elder Snow.
  • The South Dakota Bar appears to be pleasantly surprised about the power of social media, especially when it comes to their Project Rural Practice initiative. South Dakota Bar Association President Pat Goetzinger comments on the  relevance of social media in his October message “Social Media – Is it great? OR Does it grate?.”
Remember: National Pro Bono Week is October 23-29 – “The public service we render is the rent we pay for a place on this earth” — Steven Snow


This is not a post about always asking for a retainer up front or why you should take credit cards (both boffo ideas in their own right). This is not about managing accounts receivable, setting rates, or getting reticent clients to make good on their debts. This is not about how you should handle the occasional request to barter for your services (if the suggestion involves livestock, it is always better to ask that for it to be delivered wrapped and frozen and not walking and mooing).

I have a colleague who describes his research as falling into two categories: the stuff he does for DARPA (which pays the bills) and the stuff he does to make his mother proud. Which, in a way, is a good summation as to why I do the odd bit of pro bono work.

Aspirational goals aside, there is little upside for the rural lawyer to do pro bono – there is no great PR bump (there is an expectation in rural communities that neighbors look out for each other & the definition of neighbor is quite expansive) and there is certainly little return on the investment outside of that smile, those tears, that look of relief that comes when the client realizes that there is someone there to help shoulder the load. It’s not a payment you can take to the bank, but it has its own inestimable worth.

Remember: National Pro Bono Week is October 23-29 –  go make mom proud.

To Know What One Ought To Do

Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do. Saint Thomas Aquinas Two Precepts of Charity

It is National Pro Bono Week and if you are here for that up-beat, positive, celebratory post you’ve come to the wrong place – there is a crying need for pro bono services in rural areas which, for the most part, is going largely unanswered and that is just plain depressing.

The need is very real – based on 2000 Census data, 459 of the 500 poorest counties in the nation are rural, 481 of the 500 counties with the lowest per-capita income are rural, and rural counties with poverty rates above the national average outnumber urban counties by 5 to 1. The rural poor are more likely to be married and more likely to be working than their urban counterparts, but they are also more likely to be generationally poor and chronically under-employed as well.

The problem is very real – an ABA survey shows that only 20 percent of lawyers live in towns/areas with populations of less 50,000 or less, and that distance and travel demands, lack of technology and associated infrastructure, and lack of supporting resources constrain the availability of pro bono services. The prevailing perception seems to be that because no one lives in rural counties and even if they did their legal problems are so trivial that it is not worth expending resources in these areas. It is a case of too few, too small, too hard, why bother. Continue reading