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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"Life as a Rural Lawyer"

The title of this post is a partial quote of this Washington Post article's title. In the article, Judge Donna Taylor describes the need for rural lawyers and her experience as a private attorney, county attorney, and judge in rural Nebraska.

The article begins:

There’s a great deal of need for young lawyers in rural communities. There’s plenty of work to go around. To a law school student who is trying to decide, ‘Should I leave the city for a small town?’ I’d say: Give it a try.
Judge Taylor goes on to describe the unique experience of practicing law in a rural setting, and I recommend that you read the whole article.

I grew up in Iowa, which, like Nebraska, is experiencing a severe shortage of rural lawyers. The Iowa State Bar Association notes that declining numbers of rural lawyers forces residents to drive longer distances. Moreover, town governments need to pay more to bring in attorneys to handle municipal issues.

The Wall Street Journal notes that law schools in Iowa are teaming up with the Iowa State Bar Association to get students internships and jobs in rural Iowa counties. Iowa Now also describes the program, and quotes several students who are involved. A more dramatic solution that's been proposed is to do away with the Iowa bar exam for those who graduate from an in-state law school and remain in Iowa after graduation.

While these programs may help, there are still difficulties finding rural practitioners who want to be a part of these programs. And law school culture is largely focused towards getting students careers with large firms. The more students that get these jobs, the better a network with large firms the school can boast, which leads schools to invest a lot of their time and resources in maintaining a relationship with these large firms. Moreover, students typically view job offers from large, private firms as the ideal outcome of a legal education, and may view practice in a rural setting as a sign of failure.

Providing legal services to rural community is a challenge that will need to be addressed. Programs that facilitate connecting students to rural communities are a step in the right direction. But broader changes in attitudes and practices will be needed before this problem can be solved.

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