Go Rural, Young – and Old – Solos

Last week, the WSJ Law Blog highlighted this story reporting on South Dakota’s push to bring more lawyers to rural parts of the state. As you’d expect, the shortage arises as a result of the older lawyers in rural communities nearing retirement in combination with the departure of younger lawyers for opportunities in larger towns and cities. Interestingly, it’s not just consumers in demand of legal services in rural communities either. Many municipalities have difficulty finding town counsel – often forced to pay hefty travel expenses just to bring lawyers to monthly meetings.

But is it worth it for today’s lawyers to leave the big cities for small towns. A number of cynical commenters on the WSJ Law Blog said no way. Some commenters argued that it’s simply not viable for new grads, $150,000 in debt to subsist on a small town solo’s income. Another contended that the South Dakota Bar wanted to lure newbies to the wilds of the state to avoid additional competition.

Yet, those who are practicing in rural areas dispute these preconceived notions. Back in July – before this piece ever appeared – Rural Lawyer Bruce Cameron busted the myths of rural practice. On the financial side of the equation, Cameron points out rural lawyers are diminishing in number – and further, that locals prefer to spend money locally. Moreover, while small town lawyers charge lower rates, a dollar goes much farther in a state like Montana than in California.

More recently, one of Cameron’s readers bolstered this argument with demographic statistics from Texas. These numbers corroborate the trends in South Dakota in that they too show that many rural areas have an older population close to retirement.

However, though rural practice offers opportunities for lawyers starting out, the benefits aren’t limited only to young lawyers. Here’s an article about an experienced law firm partner, Dan LaPlaca whose mid-sized, suburban Maryland firm decided to shut its doors after a half century of practice. So LaPlaca took his practice to Owings in Calvert County, a smaller community with more of a small town feel. Best of all, LaPlaca can once again practice with his dad. In short, even for big town lawyers can go home again.

Where do you practice – and does a rural law lifestyle tempt you?


  1. Josh Dart on September 13, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    Thank you for the article. I must concur with the shortage of rural lawyers. In my practice serving Southeast Wyoming and Northern Colorado, I have found more work than I can accept. The phone rings everyday.

  2. Tana Fye on September 13, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    Thanks for the article.  I’m a rural solo attorney in Nebraska, but previously practiced as a solo in more urban Rapid City, South Dakota.  I think that it’s definitely a viable option for solo attorneys to practice in rural areas, but will be interested to hear the SD Bar task force’s opinions (and solutions) as to the barriers of attorneys moving to rural areas to practice law.  

    I’ve linked to your post at my two blogs:  http://backintheblackhills.blogspot.com/2011/09/rural-practice-and-south-dakota.html

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