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?
 

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  • 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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