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 have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  2. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

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  4. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.

  5. I had a hospital and dcs caseworker falsify reports that my child was born with drugs in her system. I filed a complaint with the Indiana department of health....and they found that the hospital falsified drug screens in their investigation. Then I filed a complaint with human health services in Washington DC...dcs drug Testing is unregulated and is indicating false positives...they are currently being investigated by human health services. Then I located an attorney and signed contracts one month ago to sue dcs and Anderson community hospital. Once the suit is filed I am taking out a loan against the suit and paying a law firm to file a writ of mandamus challenging the courts jurisdiction to invoke chins case against me. I also forwarded evidence to a u.s. senator who contacted hhs to push an investigation faster. Once the lawsuit is filed local news stations will be running coverage on the situation. Easy day....people will be losing their jobs soon...and judge pancol...who has attempted to cover up what has happened will also be in trouble. The drug testing is a kids for cash and federal funding situation.