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Monday, December 2, 2013

Rural Lawyers and Abandoned Practices

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Will Baude has an interesting post that discusses this article by Jim Hannah about the "abandoned practices" that are left behind when solo practitioners die or are disbarred.

Baude notes that some states have policies that require solo practitioners to have "surrogate" lawyers in place who will take over when the lawyer dies.  Comment 5 of Rule 1.3 of the Model Rules of of Professional Conduct encourages that this type of planning be part of a lawyer's duty to diligently represent his or her

To prevent neglect of client matters in the event of a sole practitioner's death or disability, the duty of diligence may require that each sole practitioner prepare a plan, in conformity with applicable rules, that designates another competent lawyer to review client files, notify each client of the lawyer's death or disability, and determine whether there is a need for immediate protective action.

I think that this rule is particularly important in states that have large rural populations.  When a state's geography is such that people live in small towns scattered across the landscape, those people who don't want to travel a great distance to find a lawyer will probably rely on a local lawyer (if one is available) for their basic legal needs.  A town with a small population would probably not be able to sustain much more than one or two solo practitioners.

And if these practitioners die or are disbarred, the consequences that Baude highlights will be exacerbated by the difficulty of finding a new attorney.  People in small towns will not only need to go through the difficulties of finding a new lawyer and updating that lawyer on their legal needs, but they will need to locate this lawyer and likely travel long distances to establish this relationship.

My account here is largely based on anecdotes I have heard from Iowans, but this New York Times article highlights the difficulties facing states and communities with a dearth of rural lawyers.  In addition to reading the entire Baude post Hannah article mentioned above, I recommend that people check out the New York Times article if they are interested in learning more about this important issue.

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