Wishek Wants You

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZC4-8311 (c) Leslie-Judge Co., J.M. Flagg artist

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZC4-8311 (c) Leslie-Judge Co., J.M. Flagg artist

So you want to be a rural lawyer, well opportunity may just be knocking at your door. The town of Wishek, North Dakota is looking to an independent attorney to open a full time law office in the community now that their previous attorney has retired.

Wishek is a small community (pop. 1002 last time the census went through) in the rolling hills and open spaces of south central North Dakota that sees having a local attorney as a valuable commodity, so the Wishek Job Development Authority (JDA) is offering a number of incentives to help entice an attorney to set up shop and put down roots. You’ll have to talk to the JDA directly about the particulars of their incentive package but there is talk that it could include assistance in locating an office, housing and with the cost of relocation. The previous attorney may also be available for consulting and mentoring.

One word of caution – this position comes complete with upper midwest prairie winters – so if you’re not a fan (or at least some what tolerant) of snow, cold wind, and the occasional dip down to arctic temperatures, this might not be the job for you. On the other hand, if you are thinking that it might be nice to start a practice some place that actually wants a lawyer and are willing to invest in several lawyers of warm clothes then you and Wishek might be a match.

For more information, contact Duke Rosendahl, the Wishek JDA director (for contact information, check the Wishek, ND website). This is a limited time offer and the deadline for applications is December 31, 2013.

Short Takes

Lawyers getting scarce in Nebraska (hat tip to Sidney Sun Telegraph)

The Nebraska State Bar Association is reporting that many Nebraska counties lack sufficient numbers of lawyers to adequately serve the needs of the client base. Currently 12 counties have no lawyers, the end result being that clients are traveling 200+ miles in order to access legal services (unintended consequence #2 is that these clients are not only taking the dollars they would spend on lawyers out of the county, they are taking the dollars they would spend on other things as well). The good news is that the Nebraska State Bar Association has started an initiative to try to encourage law students to consider a rural law career – pointing out things like the accelerated career advancement (average time to partner in  a rural firm: 4-5 years), and the availability of a challenging workload. The program includes tours of small towns and, in its inaugural year, connected at least 2 – 3 graduates with jobs (hey, it’s a start).

OK, So I wasn’t the first with the idea to map where lawyers aren’t

The South Dakota Bar Association beat me to the punch with their map of “Lawyer Population in Rural Areas“, and if that’s not bad enough, I’m betting it’s even more accurate than mine ’cause they most likely had professionals do it (not that I’m jealous or anything).

The reviews thus far for: On Becoming a Rural Lawyer

Susan Carter Liebel has posted a thoughtful review of my book over on Solo Practice University. Caroline Elefant of My Shingle fame was very generous with her review, as were the folks over at SDRuralLawyer, who listed my book as one of their featured books.

Summer Daze

Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.Henry David Thoreau

The small town lawyer’s practice seems to ebb and flow with the seasons and within each season. There is steady work in the late fall after harvest and throughout the winter until that moment when the days have lengthen sufficiently to start to stir thoughts of spring with in a human’s soul (barring the important holidays of course – come Christmas week and the first week of deer season and client calls drop off precipitously).

1200003_88771071Then there is summer ; those long lazy days of summer, days where the sun’s rays languish late into the evening and the heat and humidity are tailor-made for sweet tea and porch-settin’ – days where the most pressing thing on your plate should be emulating your dog’s efforts to sprawl across the lawn under the spreading crown of a maple and become one with the shade, waiting for the next thunder shower to walk across the countryside sweeping the heat and humidity away. And yet, the rural lawyer will, more likely than not , see that the pace of work quickens as the days grow hot and long. Some days it seems like summer’s weather has more effect on client inquires than one’s marketing efforts; an uptick in client calls is a sure predictor that a storm front is on its way; if they can’t be out in the fields, they are more willing to come into your office.

Rain is not the only thing that seems to drag clients into the office. Increases in client load also follow the predictable lulls in the normal farming routine – those periods between the end of one major event and the beginning of the next; it seems that the great sabbats of farming (spring planting, hay cutting, harvest) are no longer marked by joyous, hedonistic rituals but by dealing with matters legal, medical, or dental. While I generally approve of any tradition that results in an increase in business, I am somewhat saddened by the loss of the more ancient ways – then again, I am sure that the mere thought of lawyers cavorting naked about a bonfire under the full moon on a warm July evening did more to kill off these ancient rituals than simple modern-day practicalities.

Out Standing in the Field – Rural Lawyers in the News

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In “Is Bigger Always Better?“, attorney Michael C. Larson talks about the pull to come home to the small town law practice his great-grandfather started in spite of the occasional law school daydream of a big law career. For Mr. Larson, bigger was not better, it is the little things, the personal connection to his work and to his clients that make his career fulfilling – as he puts it: “There is something to say about being not only intellectually invested, but emotionally invested in your clientele.  I get to see first-hand the way I affect people’s lives.”

Corey Bruning discusses how he went from zero to his first jury trial in about 15 minutes in “Rural Practice Realized: A Success Story” – well, not quite in 15 minutes, there was a bit of set up before hand. Mr. Bruning is a second career attorney, Deputy State’s Attorney and partner in a small town (his hometown) law practice. As of this month, he’s six months into a law practice that covers everything from criminal prosecution to estate work, family law to business law and everything in between. Sounds like a typical rural law practice to me.

Spring Niches

After a longish winter (snow on the 26th of April is a bit over the top), the annual rights of spring are finally upon is – the fishing opener is but a weekend away and the wild turkey season is in full swing. For those not familiar with these activities, both are exercises in which the participants spend far more than is strictly sane to obtain a food stuff that could be had at a reputable grocer for a tenth the price. For those of us who spend our time participating, these rights are about more than simply nurturing our inner hunter-gatherer, they mark the transition when snow-shoveling (sure there is skiing & snowmobiles, but it all has to do with that frigid white stuff) gives way to far more varied ways of being outdoors.

Turkey hunting is something of a solo activity – after all, if you are armed, dressed like a bush, and making sounds like turkey, the last thing you want is another armed, turkey sounding bush anywhere in the vicinity – while fishing tends to be more a small firm activity – 2 or 3 gathered together to wash worms, sit in contemplative silence or to debate the great problems of the world as mood suits. When fall comes around, the big law model hits the woods and fields as groups head out to spend time in the deer camps of the great north woods.

785286_48781848But places to hunt are fading away as more landowners close acreage to hunters – set aside acres are being put back into production, woodlots and non-tillable lands are being put into private preserves, and some are simply closed thanks to, I’m sorry to say, the poor husbandry of the hunters themselves. As more and more land is closed or put to more profitable use than simple outdoor recreation there will be people interested in preserving their ability to pursue their form of communing with the great outdoors.

I’m not sure that a recreational land practice would ever be a full-time profit center, but then again it might with the right mix of estate planning, real estate, contracts, and entity formation;  after all, hunters are not the only ones wanting to preserve the space needed for their outdoor activities – there are equestrians and mountain bikers looking for places to ride, snowmobilers looking for places to run trails, and cabins on the lake to preserve for the next generation. The potential client pool encompasses anyone with a hobby that takes place outdoors and requires a bit more space than your average backyard.

Marketing this type of practice is may be a little tricky – most likely it will be mainly be by word of mouth and will involve a delicate balancing act so as narrow the niche too far; the recreational land practitioner would need to recognize that the various elements of their client pool may have divergent requirements (equestrians aren’t going to want to share trails with dirt bikes, and those looking to spend a quiet snowy evening alone in their cabin tend get a mite peeved when a herd of snowmobiles shatters the mood) and that the best marketing would project this understanding to the client pool.

The only other caveat I can think of at this juncture, is that this would not be the type of practice that confines itself to a small geographic area. At the very least, this is the type of practice that would span counties if not an entire state – the recreational land practitioner should expect a bit of travel time in their future.

I should note that I’m not the only one thinking about the niche practices offered by the outdoorsy folk – sdrurallawyer offers this prospective as to why a lawyer should be included in a hunting party.