Paying attorneys to move to rural areas

April 17, 2013
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The American Bar Association called on federal, state and local governments to do something about the decline in the number of lawyers practicing in rural areas. South Dakota has decided to pay attorneys to relocate to its state’s rural areas.

The state is the first to reimburse people for their law school tuition in order to entice recent grads to consider rural locales over urban ones. The legislation signed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard last month creates a four-year pilot program for counties with a population of 10,000 or less. Those counties will have to pay 35 percent of an incentive payment to the attorneys; the state bar will pay 15 percent, with the state paying the remaining amounts. The incentive payment is equal to 90 percent of the resident tuition for the University of South Dakota School of Law. According to the law school's website, a first-year student enrolled for the 2012-2013 school year will pay $13,288 in tuition and fees if he or she is a resident.

Attorneys who participate must practice law on a full-time basis in the eligible county for five years; the payment will also be distributed over the five-year period. It begins July 1. The program will accept no more than 16 for the time being.

The state appropriated from its general fund $475,000 to the Unified Judicial System to cover the payments.

Leaving before the five-year period ends will require the attorney to repay all sums received. Not doing so is grounds for discipline, according to the legislation.

According to the New York Times, nearly one in four Americans live in rural areas, but only two percent of the country’s small law firms are in these less-dense areas. In South Dakota, 65 percent of attorneys are in just four counties.

This is not a problem unique to South Dakota. Rural parts of Indiana also face a dearth of available attorneys, especially for pro bono work. Charles Dunlap, executive director of the Indiana Bar Foundation, called the situation here a “crisis.”

At a time when many recent law school graduates are struggling to find employment in the legal field, this type of legislation could be very attractive – a virtually guaranteed job for five years and a portion of your student loans are paid back. But, if you are a 26-year-old fresh out of school, do you want to move to a place where the population is small, entertainment and nightlife options may be limited, and you likely won’t know anyone?

Firms in smaller cities here have noted they have a hard time attracting and keeping women and minority attorneys because many young lawyers want to work in larger metropolitan areas.

What do you think about the South Dakota initiative? Should Indiana take a look at funding a similar program? Who should be responsible for funding it and where would the money come from?

  • Ageism: Implied or Expressed?
    "Firms in smaller cities here have noted they have a hard time attracting and keeping women and minority attorneys because many young lawyers want to work in larger metropolitan areas." This statement presumes that only "women and minority attorneys" are all "young lawyers." Are these law firms in smaller cities only interested in recruiting young lawyers? Clearly, ageism is implied if not expressed in this conclusion.
  • imminent crisis! sound the klaxon
    I guess the rural folk will have to suffer with old white guy lawyers. I wonder if they will ever survive. ! What will they ever do.

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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.