Hanging Your Shingle in a Small Town

A guest post by Andrew Flusche

Similar to being a rural lawyer, practicing law in a small town has unique challenges and considerations. It’s certainly not the same as the big city! Here are a few things I’ve learned since starting my practice in the booming small-opolis of Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Today’s lawyers are tomorrow’s judges

In Virginia, the legislature appoints our judges. Of course those appointments come from the ranks of the active bar. It makes perfect sense, but when I was a baby lawyer I never really thought about it.

Here’s why I mention it: be nice to everyone! If you’re rude to a colleague that doesn’t seem to affect your practice at all today, they very well could be a judge next year.

In the five years since I’ve been practicing, I’ve seen a handful of judicial changes, and I practice in an extremely limited number of courts. Just this simple fact should give you pause before you do anything that might not reflect positively on you.

It’s a small world out there

When practicing in a small town, you run into people from your legal world outside the courtroom. I run into clerks, judges, clients, colleagues, and officers all the time when I’m out and about.

Needless to say, we should always be nice to everyone. But we’re human, so that’s easier said than done.

However, as a small town lawyer, it’s even more important to always be kind. Heck, I run into clients who I can’t even remember, but they recognize me. If I treat someone poorly, they just might be a past client. Or they might have been a client tomorrow.

Be unique to stand out

It’s tempting to model your practice on the other attorneys in town. After all, it’s working for them. Why not follow suit?

Here in Fredericksburg, most folks do family law, criminal defense, and personal injury. Some people just do two of those, but being more of a generalist is standard practice around town.

To give myself a marketing advantage, I came up with a unique angle: traffic and misdemeanor defense. I’m the only attorney in Fredericksburg (and perhaps the state of Virginia) who solely defends traffic tickets and misdemeanor charges. Many colleagues are still surprised that my practice works, but I think the main reason it’s worked out is that I’m different. In a crowded field, the purple cow gets attention.

Andrew Flusche lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia and helps people from all over the country with their reckless driving Virginia tickets. He also wrote the consumer book, Fight Your Virginia Reckless Driving Ticket. Find Andrew on Google+.

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).

This just in

1083012_89422836A hat tip to Nicole Black (lawyer, author & legal tech evangelist) for the link.

A FYI for those of you contemplating an urban life style it seems there are mental and physical costs to living in those places where there’s a Starbucks on every corner. In the latest Scientific American Mind, Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg reports on the mounting evidence that urban living can alter brain physiology.

It seems that folks from cities of 100,000 or more have more activity in their amygdala (the part of the brain that reacts to environmental threats – back in caveman times these would have been things like lions, tigers, and bears – oh my!) than their county counterparts (those from towns of 10,000 or less). There also seems to be a correlation between the time one lives in a city and amygdala activity – the longer one lives a city, the more activity. Now, correlation does not equate to causation and Dr. Meyer-Lindenberg says that this study does not indicate why city living would cause an increase in brain activity.

In any event, it is food for thought.

Small Towns

The following was forwarded to me by Bill Sommerness (friend & small town lawyer). He writes:

Those who grew up in small towns will laugh when they read this. Those who didn’t will be in disbelief and won’t understand how true it is.

1) You can name everyone you graduated with.

2) You know what 4-H means.

3) You went to parties at a pasture, barn, gravel pit, or in the middle of a dirt road. On Monday you could always tell who was at the party because of the scratches on their legs from running through the woods when the party was busted. (See #6.)

4) You used to “drag” Main Street.

5) You whispered the ‘F’ word and your parents knew within the hour.

6) You scheduled parties around the schedules of different police officers, because you knew which ones would bust you and which ones wouldn’t.

7) You could never buy cigarettes because all the store clerks knew how old you were (and if you were old enough, they’d tell your parents anyhow.) Besides, where would you get the money?

8) When you did find somebody old enough and brave enough to buy cigarettes, you still had to go out into the country and drive on back roads to smoke them.

9) You knew which section of the ditch you would find the beer your buyer dropped off.

10) It was cool to date somebody from the neighboring town.

11) The whole school went to the same party after graduation.

12) You didn’t give directions by street names but rather by references. Turn by Nelson’s house, go 2 blocks to Anderson ‘s , and it’s four houses left of the track field.

13) The golf course had only 9 holes.

14) You couldn’t help but date a friend’s ex-boyfriend/girlfriend.

15) Your car stayed filthy because of the dirt roads, and you will never own a dark vehicle for this reason.

16) The town next to you was considered ‘trashy’ or ‘snooty,’ but was actually just like your town.

17) You referred to anyone with a house newer then 1950 as the ‘rich’ people.

18) The people in the ‘big city’ dressed funny, and then you picked up the trend 2 years later.

19) Anyone you wanted could be found at the local gas station or the dairybar /Queen .

20) You saw at least one friend a week driving a tractor through town or one of your friends driving a grain truck to school occasionally.

21) The gym teacher suggested you haul hay for the summer to get stronger.

22) Directions were given using THE stop light as a reference.

23) When you decided to walk somewhere for exercise, 5 people would pull over and ask if you wanted a ride.

24) Your teachers called you by your older siblings’ names.

25) Your teachers remembered when they taught your parents.

26) You could charge at any local store or write checks without any ID.

27) There was no McDonald’s.

28) The closest mall was over an hour away.

29) It was normal to see an old man riding through town on a riding lawn mower.

30) You’ve peed in a cornfield.

31) Most people went by a nickname.

32) You laughed your butt off reading this because you know it is true, and you forward it to everyone who may have lived in a small town.

I would not have wanted to have been raised any other way!!!!

Thanks Bill for this morning’s chuckle.

Catch Up

A quick update on the world of rural lawyering:

I recently ran across Jennifer Gumbel’s postings on Lawyerist.com (a tip of the hat to sdrurallawyer.com for pointing out a great resource right here in my back yard). Her article on legal “ruralsourcing” (outsourcing to small towns) shows that, once again, the internet opens up opportunities for rural lawyers. The low overhead of the rural lawyer combined with the almost instantaneous communication of the internet may make the rural lawyer the next “goto” source for document review, due diligence work, and freelance legal research. In a lighter vein, Ms. Gumbel’s “Observations on Rural Stereotypes” is good for a quick laugh.

Over on Greedy Associates, Andrew Chow recently posted on “Why you shouldn’t rule out rural law“. I’m honored to have this blog quoted so prominently. Thanks Mr. Chow.

Finally, there is a great thread over on jdunderground on the wisdom of going rural. You’ll have to sift through the snarky to get to the gems, but the thread is worth a read as there is some good common sense advice lurking there.