Go Rural, Young Lawyer!

In tough economic times like these, some new lawyers may want to open their minds to a different type of risk and go west — or north, or south, or east — to find a job beyond their urban dreams.

I met with a lawyer a couple of weeks ago in a small town about two hours outside of the Twin Cities. Our conversation turned to operating a law firm in a small town and the lawyer told me two things I probably knew but did not really appreciate. One was a complaint about how difficult it is to attract new lawyers to join law firms in rural areas. The other was the lawyer’s prediction that in the next ten years, half the lawyers in her quarter of the state were going to retire from the practice of law.

RelatedNew Graduate taking over an existing [rural] law firm

That prediction probably is not unique to Minnesota. New lawyers unable to find a job in a major American city may want to broaden their job searches beyond their local beltways.

There are many benefits to practicing in a smaller community. First off, there is plenty of work to do. All those farms you pass as you drive that two-lane road into the country? That farmland is worth several thousand dollars an acre in many areas. Those farm families need estate plans, contracts, and business advice. There are teachers, small business owners, bankers, and other professionals as well. The folk in small towns sometimes get divorced, commit the occasional DWI, and get in car accidents. They need local lawyers and they do not want to pay for some lawyer from the city to drive out to the rural courthouse to represent them. They need trusted advisors they can form life-long professional relationships with. That could be you.

Not sure what area of practice is best for you? In small towns, many lawyers are generalists. They take a variety of cases and get experience in multiple areas. Eager to get inside a courtroom? You may get more opportunities in a small town than you would as an associate in the big city.

The economics can work as well. The cost of housing may be less than half of what you would find in a major city. Your mortgage could be so small that even with your law school debt you would have less overall debt than you would have living in the city.

I know, you could never give up the city. You would miss the theater, even though you only go once or twice a year. Where would you shop? (Although you do most of your shopping online nowadays.) A small town only has one movie theater! (Of course, you stream most of the movies you see through Netflix.) These fears of cultural isolation may be just that — fears. The lawyer I met with told me that she and her colleagues are simply more intentional about going to the city for entertainment and probably do so more than city-folk. Many people in the city think nothing of traveling three hours each way in the summer to go up to the family cabin; rural residents just do a “reverse commute” to attend sporting events, concerts, and other big city attractions. I have a client who lives 2½ hours from Minneapolis and has seasons tickets to the Minnesota Twins.

Granted, there are some impediments. If you are single, it may be harder to find a mate in a smaller community. Even if you are married, your spouse may not be able to find suitable work in the same area.  But rural lawyers love to tell you how nice it is to raise children in a small town, where they can ride their bikes to every friend’s house and you know the parents of all of their playmates.

Quite frankly, rural lawyers probably do not want you to just show up for two or three years and then pack your bags and go back to the city. But there is always the possibility that once you get out to the country, you might like it and stay. There is risk in any venture, whether it is joining a big firm or starting your own practice. In tough economic times like these, some new lawyers may want to open their minds to a different type of risk and go west — or north, or south, or east — to find a job beyond their urban dreams.

This was originally published on September 7, 2010, but it seems equally relevant in 2014.

Featured image: “Main Street and Old Common Road sign in autumn” from Shutterstock.

Planning For What You Did Last Summer

Beachball1 Planning For What You Did Last SummerAt some point in our educational careers, we have all returned to school in September and been directed to write an essay titled “What I Did Last Summer.� And we have all had the same first thought: Nothing. I did nothing all summer.

If you are a first or second-year law student, you cannot afford to return to school in September without a long list of the things you did this summer to better position yourself to ultimately get a job in this tough economy. Even when times were good, 1Ls could not typically expect to find paid legal work over the summer; now many 2Ls are caught in the same position. But that doesn’t mean you should spend the summer sleeping in, taking Facebook surveys, and watching Hulu.

Get thee to a law office

One way or another, you are going to want to spend some time in law office. If you cannot get paid work in an office, then volunteering is your best bet. Most nonprofits, like the Legal Aid Society, cannot handle an unlimited number of volunteers but you would be surprised how few people try to volunteer outside of a paid internship (unpaid internships at for-profit law offices may be more trouble than they are worth). To make yourself useful to the nonprofit, you will need to commit to a certain number of hours per week, perhaps 20, and agree to show up on regular days and times. Don’t be surprised if you are not busy the first week you are there; it typically takes attorneys a few days to figure out what tasks can be delegated to the volunteers.

Because law students also need to make money in the summer, try to find paid work during nights and weekends. If you find yourself whining about having to work two jobs in the summer, go hang out with some unemployed 3Ls who are studying for the bar exam.

Join the bar association and a legal listserv

Many bar associations steeply discount their rates for students. Summer is a good time to join the bar, become familiar with its services, and perhaps participate in some bar activities. Sections and committees may meet less frequently in the summer but they may also have summer sports and networking events through which you can meet attorneys and learn more about the practice. Summer is also a good time to join a listserv and learn about the types of questions lawyers ask each other without becoming too distracted from your coursework.

Focus

There are few lawyers who operate general practices any more – specialization has been the trend for many years. One edge students have now that they did not have five or ten years ago is that there are blogs in every practice area, easily accessible, announcing and analyzing the latest decisions and trends in that area. Find and follow the legal blogs in the areas of practice that interest you and start yourself down the road to specialization. At the very least, you may discover that the practice area you were so hot about before law school is less interesting to you that watching paint dry.

Skip summer school

Many prospectively unemployed students decide to take a course or two in the summer, figuring they can lighten their load during the regular school year. Feh. Law school is an intense, competitive place, often divorced from the real world. Students need a break. Plus, taking summer school is, well, boring. Does nothing for your resume. I vote for working two jobs over summer school.

Read

Forget the trashy novels. In addition to blawgs and listservs, there are two types of books you should read over the summer. First, you may not have a legal job, but you can read about the law: famous cases, supreme court biographies, Louis Nizer (who?), etc. If you are going to practice law for the next 30 or 40 years, you might as well learn something about its history or famous litigators.

Second, read good novels or nonfiction, anything that is either well-written or opens you up to new ideas and experiences. Why? Because hopefully sometime soon you are going to have an interview for a legal job you really want. A good book will provide an interesting topic for conversation and could save you from the dreaded “Tell me about yourself� interview question. If nothing else, at least you will be able to say what you did last summer.

lawyeristlab banner Planning For What You Did Last Summer

Planning For What You Did Last Summer is a post from the law firm marketing blog, Lawyerist.com

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