Three years ago, I blogged about opportunities for lawyers in rural practice. That wasn’t just a short term trend either; demand for rural lawyers remains high, as shown by yesterday’s story from the Journal Star about veteran lawyer John Thomas’ efforts to find a successor to his busy rural practice. It’s a great story about rural lawyering as well as how an older lawyer and an upcoming one learned from each other.
As the article recounts, this past summer, Thomas hired a law clerk, Alicia Doerr – his only applicant in twenty years, and he’s hopeful that she will eventually take over his practice when he retires. Sweet deal – the promise of owning a law firm before even getting a diploma.
Of course, it’s not that simple. Thomas’ firm is located in a small town with a population of 94, making it difficult to meet people and without the bustle of city life or high wages. And Doerr’s boyfriend is 120 miles away. Still, the problems aren’t insurmountable. The location distance could potentially be solved by a branch office or remote technology, while the state of Nebraska is piloting a loan forgiveness program to help rural lawyers repay student debt.
Technology isn’t yet a solution to the rural lawyer shortage. As I understand, in some parts, internet coverage is still spotty and in any event, rural life still relies on personal, in the flesh interaction that technology can’t replicate. So there are lots of opportunities for those students willing to explore them.
If you’re interested in a closer look at rural lawyer, Bruce Cameron is the person to visit with, over at his blog, Rural Lawyer. And be sure to check out his video series, where you can see what rural courts and other aspects of rural lawyering life are like first hand.