The day after Christmas the following headline caught my eye on Twitter: Lawyer Shortage In Some Rural Areas Reaches Epic Proportions.
As it turns out, the tweet was about a report on NPR that profiled a lawyer in Nebraska who travels 500+ miles a week visiting clients.
But this isn’t just a Nebraska problem, and it didn’t begin in 2016.
The lack of rural lawyers has been highlighted right here in the Pacific Northwest:
- Outside the Urban Box – Oregon State Bar Bulletin – October 2015
- Opportunity Knocks in Rural Oregon – Oregon State Bar Bulletin – August/September 2013
- The Only Lawyer in Town – Oregon State Bar Bulletin – April 2008
- Friday 5: Advantages of Being a Rural Attorney – WSBA NW Sidebar April 10, 2015 (and to be fair: Friday 5: Disadvantages to Being a Rural Attorney).
How are states addressing this unmet need?
The lack of rural lawyers has real access to justice implications, as reported in April of last year. (Legal Aid holds Oregon’s first virtual legal aid clinic to help address the disproportionate ratio between legal aid needs and available legal aid attorneys in the state’s rural areas.)
The NPR piece points out that some states, like North Dakota, Iowa and others, send law students to rural firms for summer internships. South Dakota gives a stipend to lawyers working in under-served areas. Nebraska (the home state of the lawyer featured in the piece) is recruiting high school kids to become rural lawyers. Each year, 15 high schoolers get a tuition scholarship and future admission to the University of Nebraska Law School. Utah, Colorado, Texas, Vermont, and Wisconsin are trying to tackle the problem too.
Back here in Oregon
Oregon is working to draw attention to this need and offers the Rural Opportunities Fellowship Program through the OSB Diversity and Inclusion Department. The fellowship allows continuing law students to explore summer legal opportunities with public employers and non-profit organizations in rural Oregon (defined as anywhere along the Oregon coast, anywhere east of the Cascade Mountains, or anywhere south of Roseburg. Other areas of Oregon are considered on a case-by-case basis).
Ask Any Practice Management Expert
And ask any (aged? experienced?) practice management expert – we have been telling young lawyers to consider rural law practices for over 20 years. The suggestion began with my excellent colleague, Carol Wilson, and was carried forward by myself and Dee Crocker. If you don’t want to listen to us, then consider this: legal marketing trends show that 71% of people looking for a lawyer think it is important to have a local attorney. If you want clients, put the Tim Brouillette’s of the world out of business. (Tim is the Nebraska lawyer who travels 500+ miles each week to visit clients. No offense Tim, but if we can get lawyers to set up shop closer to where the need is you won’t need to travel so much.)
Something tells me Tim won’t mind….
All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2017
I don’t mind at all!
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