ABA Journal



South Dakota lures lawyers to rural areas with annual subsidies

Apr 9, 2013, 12:43 pm CDT


It would take more than money to lure me to rural S.D.!

By EsqinAustin on 2013 04 09, 2:02 pm CDT

Rural SD would want you?

By Cheeser on 2013 04 09, 3:14 pm CDT

Who knows? I wasn't really concerned with the subjective opinions of the great people (whoever they are) of Rural S.D. Apparently, if they are offering money to pay attorneys to move there, they aren't being all that picky, now are they?

By EsqinAustin on 2013 04 09, 4:01 pm CDT

If the lawyers can get internet access in those areas they should definitely take up the offer. They can start a virtual practice that does automated work while also doing the in person work in the rural area.

These types of opportunities are ones the larger law firms should really look at too. They can set up training facilities in rural areas where part of the new lawyers time is spent on local work while the remaining is providing assistance on work sent from the main firm locations. This is of course assuming that the firm operates like a united company rather than just a branded network of attorneys. Since corporate clients don't want to pay high prices for associates, but the Law Firms still want to pay competitive salaries, they can use the subsidies of the rural areas to compensate for downward price pressure from the corporate clients.

By legaltruth on 2013 04 09, 5:42 pm CDT

Where's South Dakota??

By Anonymous on 2013 04 09, 6:42 pm CDT

More proof Cooley should open a law school there and the ABA can allow illegal immigrants to attend.

By tim17 on 2013 04 09, 7:10 pm CDT

Alright! ABA can re-route some of those trains that were hauling newbies to Nebraska. Not only can the kids be paid to hang their shingles, they can also get a mean bowl of buffalo chili.

By B. McLeod on 2013 04 09, 10:58 pm CDT

A friend who just finished medical school was given $20,000 a year for four years of medical school, a $50,000 signing bonus, and supplemental income of $25,000 a year if he agreed to practice in a rural area for three years. Compared to that the $12,000 a year sounds a bit underwhelming.

By Fred on 2013 04 10, 1:46 am CDT

I guess people were tired of being treated by veterinarians, barbers and blacksmiths (or family members). There is a difference between medicine and law. There is a difference in the interest served.

By B. McLeod on 2013 04 10, 7:34 am CDT

I suppose that was intended to be funny but it mostly comes off as stupid. The comparison is quite apt. Both medical and legal services are high priced, delivered by trained professionals, and often lacking in rural areas. Blacksmiths and barbers don't deliver babies nor do they do divorces. I think it's interesting that our profession is starting to do something that medicine has been doing for several decades but I'll be surprised if such a low amount will provide much incentive for anyone who is even remotely qualified.

By Fred on 2013 04 10, 9:13 am CDT

Historically, blacksmiths set broken bones and barbers treated minor injuries (and "bled" patients) in areas lacking doctors. People lacking knowledge of that history come off as stupid. Most people have been to doctors many times, and to lawyers never. A large segment of the populace is oblivious to lawyers, and if we took out domestic practice, it would be even larger. You may think you're as important as a doctor, but check the polls to see how that plays with the public.

By B. McLeod on 2013 04 10, 12:07 pm CDT

Isn't South Dakota's motto: "North Dakota Without the Oil"?

By AndytheLawyer on 2013 04 10, 5:36 pm CDT

I wonder how many of the effete posters here have ever actually visited the myriad locations they instantly dismiss as being backwaters?

By Marc on 2013 04 10, 6:00 pm CDT

I grew up in SD, and obtained both BS and JD there. Excellent state, beautiful Black Hills, zero income tax.

By Cheeser on 2013 04 10, 6:07 pm CDT

@12 - I believe it is SD that is enjoying the petrochemical boom.

@7 - Better that than a slice of buffalo pie.

By NoleLaw on 2013 04 10, 6:54 pm CDT

@ 15 - North Dakota is enduring the petrochemical boom, and enjoying the influx of lawyers that results, or is that the other way around?

Buffalo meat is very lean and tasty. Buffalo pies, like cow pies, are okay for making stinky smoky fires if you are freezing, but not at all tasty or so I have heard. No desire to taste a buffalo pie.

By Kit on 2013 04 12, 8:39 am CDT

I think this is a very sensible idea. It is also a good reminder that society suffers when a large portion of the population lacks reasonable access to legal services.

By Mike Appleton on 2013 04 12, 12:31 pm CDT

@12 and 16 - I stand corrected.

By NoleLaw on 2013 04 12, 12:33 pm CDT

@11 "You may think you’re as important as a doctor, but check the polls to see how that plays with the public."

Glad somebody finally said it. This self-aggrandizing comparison is getting old.

I do believe that a lack of lawyers in rural areas is a huge a problem in this country. A problem that gets ignored by the "there are too many lawyers" crowd (who have likely never stepped outside of a corporate or commercial litigation practice). However, there is a difference between the urgency of the need for legal and medical services in rural areas. When's the last time you heard of somebody providing emergency, life-saving legal services?

By Not the same on 2013 04 12, 12:43 pm CDT


So it was the barbers who bled the patients. Too many people still blame that on lawyers!

By William Able on 2013 04 12, 12:44 pm CDT

@19: However, there is a difference between the urgency of the need for legal and medical services in rural areas. When’s the last time you heard of somebody providing emergency, life-saving legal services?

Anytime a lawyer takes on a capital case fits that bill. Or a civil attorney gets an injunction against dangerous or negligent behavior. Law and medicine aren't equivalent, it's true, but there are many lawyers whose practices could be classified as emergency services.

@4: I think law firms opening branch offices in rural areas staffed with junior associates (and maybe 1-2 supervising partners) would be an excellent solution. Great training for young lawyers; fills a legal need for the community.

By bluedana on 2013 04 12, 1:04 pm CDT

@ 19 "When’s the last time you heard of somebody providing emergency, life-saving legal services?"

I have never performed life-saving medical services, but I have hopped in my car and driven out to a client's house to execute a will and durable power of attorney the day before he went into the hospital for heart surgery. That's pretty important to rural clients who have spent their entire lives building up a farming or ranching business, especially those with children who would divide and sell. People in rural counties often have long lists of legal issues that they just never address, whether it's because they can't find a lawyer, or they can't find an affordable lawyer, or that they can't find a lawyer they like. Rural areas remain under served in a big way. South Dakota is doing the right thing.

By Pogo on 2013 04 12, 1:08 pm CDT

@21, fair point. Therein lies the problem with sensationalized arguments (my "when's the last time" bit). It's just a frustrating comparison. ER doctors, for example, are employing immediate life saving practices daily. A lawyer can drive 120 miles and stay in a hotel to work on capital litigation with nothing lost in the two hour commute. That was my point. I am very sensitive to the need for legal services in rural areas for the reasons you offer as well as other more common services.

By Not the same on 2013 04 12, 1:14 pm CDT

$12K a year is enough after taxes where I could fly to and crash with my parents in Phoenix every other weekend. Hmm.

By ABS on 2013 04 12, 1:49 pm CDT

@22, I hope that you realize that I agree with you (based on everything else in my post other than the sentence you quoted). I think lack of availability of legal services in rural areas is a huge problem in this country, and am aware of types of examples like the one you cited. It's just not the same or as urgent a problem as rural areas with lack of access to medical services -- that's my point.

I think SD is doing the right thing too. Actually, my original post was motivated by another commentor who had criticized the amount ($12k) as being underwhelming compared to the incentives for a medical doctor to move to rural areas. There are only so many financial resources at play here and my point really is that it's not a fair criticism that rural areas are more focused on recruiting doctors than lawyers.

By Not the same on 2013 04 12, 2:01 pm CDT

The article doesn't explicitly say so, but I assumed that the 12K was an incentive to move to SD. Thus you'd get 12K in addition to any legal fees you would charge to your clients. Are the rest of you assuming that 12K is all the attorney would recieve?

By NLO on 2013 04 12, 2:07 pm CDT

I'm about to grab medical school with about 300K in debt. Are your loans underwhelming compared to mine? Maybe that is where the increased incentive comes from...

By jm on 2013 04 12, 2:12 pm CDT

I drove across South Dakota a few years ago with my family and spent several days in the Black Hills and around DeSmet. It was stunning. I toyed with the idea of moving there. $12,000 would go a long way in S.D. compared to the mid-atlantic state where I live, but I'm here on the east coast for now because of my kids.

By OldHouseGal on 2013 04 12, 2:22 pm CDT

Wait, there are "four urban areas" in South Dakota??

I keed, I keed. My mom grew up in a small town in western Nebraska and I've been to South Dakota and the Black Hills a couple times, very nice place. I too think this is a good idea, but agree that $12K seems a bit skimpy as an incentive. Still, given all the unemployed lawyers, I'm sure they'll find plenty of takers. One could do worse.

By Just Some Bloke on 2013 04 12, 2:31 pm CDT

Gotta love the consequences of individual choice. Fredric Cozad would either laugh or not want to last one week in the NY Metro/Tri-State area and God Bless Him. At the same time, hot shot law grads, newbies and even veteran partners, particularly from the Northeast would probably wither and die without their big city culture and opportunity. Vive la difference people, vive la difference !!!

By EJF on 2013 04 12, 2:51 pm CDT

The $12K is about 90% of the cost of one year at the University of South Dakota Law School - the only law school in the state. So in 3 years you can recoup 90% of your tuition and fees if you're a local graduate.

We don't have any delusions that $12K for a few years will get new lawyers flocking here. And there probably aren't a lot of lawyers who want to do what we do in small SD towns. Which is everything - broad general practice that covers 100s, if not 1000s, of square miles, and lots of community service.

The day is never dull when you jump from a criminal defense appointment to a divorce to a fence line dispute to an insurance claim for lightning struck cattle to an easement for a waterline to a sale contract for a small business. And that's before lunch. After lunch get in your car and drive a 50 or more miles to one or more other county seats to find a judge, get some papers signed, and handle a motion or two. Then in the evening go to the volunteer fire department training session or a church finance committee meeting.

We don't make much money. But I guarantee that we make a real difference in our communities and in the lives of our clients.

By SoDak Rural Lawyer on 2013 04 12, 3:17 pm CDT

Buffalo chili is great!

By Russ LaPeer on 2013 04 12, 3:28 pm CDT

As a former South Dakotan resident, I hazard the "four urban areas" to be identified as Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Pierre (state capitol), and Watertown. Sioux Falls is in the southeast corner of the state; Rapid City the southwest; Watertown the northwest; and Pierre smack in the middle. There are vast expanses in between with very low population densities.

Also interesting is the tie-in with another article, which mentioned that South Dakota has the highest bar passage rate...

By Voice of Reason on 2013 04 12, 3:29 pm CDT

@31, if I can recall, I think you are who I wanted to be when I decided to go to law school. I, like many others, got caught up in the "prestige" of corporate work. I live in a state where I can commute within 40mins from the rural area to the city. I get up every morning and leave my farm in my rural community behind and go to work for a multinational corporation that doesn't give anything back to my community.

My peers respect what I do and make me feel good about my accomplishments, and indeed I am proud of them and do appreciate and enjoy my job. But it is not lost on me the difference that you make in your community, and I wish that more law students knew how important that is. Hopefully some folks will take this $12k as an opportunity to do something they wouldn't and they will see just how meaningful their work is.

Thank you for what you do for the legal profession and for your community.

By City Days, Rural Nights on 2013 04 12, 3:38 pm CDT

@ 25. Yes, I know you agree with me. I just needed to express my opinion about the urgency of some legal necessities and the importance of being available to rural clients.

By Pogo on 2013 04 12, 4:00 pm CDT

I am going to be getting my law degree in a year or so and taking the bar, and I plan on having a rural, diverse practice someplace, so if they still have openings, I will jump at the chance. What a great way to get started. I am working hard to actually be practice ready when I graduate. Yes it will be a challenge. Yes I will be looking for a mentor, but my mentor can be any place in the country, as long as I can reach him or her when I need to. I am an older student, and have some business experience, so the idea of running my own practice only scares me a little. I am studying a significant amount of Indian Law, which will also be very helpful in many rural parts of South Dakota. So I hope there is not too much of a rush for these positions.

By Kit on 2013 04 12, 4:05 pm CDT

I'm not from anywhere near South Dakota, but I looked up the counties named. Voice of Reason (#33) is almost right. The one that he (or she) guessed wrong was Watertown—it's actually Aberdeen, which is also in the northeast quarter of the state (not the northwest).

By Dale on 2013 04 12, 4:49 pm CDT

Wait a minute. What about the old saw that if a small town has one lawyer he starves but if they have two they both get rich. If Kozad sues someone who defends the case? and who is the judge? The state is going to have to send these lawyers out in pairs.

By Leo Burt on 2013 04 12, 8:29 pm CDT

@8 If you really think lawyers are as important as doctors take a look at how the military views it. I have several friends who had their entire medical/dental school bill picked up by the Department of Defense in exchange for a few years of service. I thought I'd try the same route when I applied for law school. The US Marine Corps offered me $8,000 for all three years. Not $8,000 per year. $8,000 total. No offense to my own profession but doctors are in a little higher demand.

By AZJurist on 2013 04 12, 8:51 pm CDT

# 31 (SD Rural Lawyer): I was just going to say "Bravo" for your post. I am sure you are important to your fellow citizens. But I think that the offer would be more attractive if it included an office allowance, including staff. I doubt many spouses would want to double as secretary, file clerk, receptionist, etc.
(Having been at the bar for over 55 years, I doubt I qualify for the SD offer.)
Professional regards.
@ Seattle

By George Lundin on 2013 04 13, 12:13 am CDT

I must admit that South Dakota is another state in which I would love to add another law office. I am just an old country Lawyer any way,

By Johnnie Louis Johnson III on 2013 04 13, 11:59 pm CDT

One of the benefits not mentioned is the close proximity to Sturgis. I like this deal.

By Faulhaber on 2013 04 14, 2:11 pm CDT

# 40 - I bet that many rural attorneys double as their own office staff and operate out of a room or two of their house and even clean the place themselves. Low overhead.

By Kit on 2013 04 14, 3:30 pm CDT

One thing to remember is that South Dakota has a lot of really poor counties. So not only are your customers varied, and few and far between, with miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles, as the saying goes. In addition, many of your customers will be paying you chicken feed. If you have the time and inclination to keep a few hens for eggs and maybe a rooster to fertilize the eggs if you want fryers rather than fresh fried eggs, then bags of cracked corn, etc may be perfectly acceptable payment. But you can't bank rolled oats, soy flour, millet. Nor can your branch office forward your share to your Minneapolis office by wire transfer.

What about water rights? Do you know which rule South Dakota follows?

Is South Dakota a PL280 state?

North Dakota has more oil and gas than South Dakota, but South Dakota has some mineral resources. What do you know about mineral rights? Environmental protection? Surface rights?

Is there an open range?

A rural practice is not just a different more general practice. It includes areas you almost never run into in cities. Do you want to learn more about these areas?

By Kit on 2013 04 14, 5:23 pm CDT

The problem with moving to rural South Dakota and setting up a law practice is that every day, when you wake up, you're in rural South Dakota, and it's very time consuming and expensive to get anywhere else.

By AndytheLawyer on 2013 04 15, 3:41 pm CDT

@ AndytheLawyer - For me, the advantage of practicing in rural South Dakota is that every day, when you wake up, you are in rural America, and it is very time consuming and expensive for city folk who think rural America is boring to come out and ask us "What do you ever do way out here?"

If you are country, there is never enough time for all that there is to do. If you have to ask, you probably wouldn't understand if we taught you. Anyone eager to make a home in rural South Dakota will find a rich full life there, as in most of rural America. Anyone who prefers cities won't find the financial incentive worth the hardship. South Dakota rural area are about as rural as it gets. The feed store is one of the main hubs. Pick up trucks outnumber minivans. Theater? Concerts? Probably a Christmas play at church. Neighbors? Plenty of good ones. Ones who occasionally need a good lawyer who understands country issues. If you want to be that lawyer, South Dakota is a good place to be.

By Kit on 2013 04 15, 4:11 pm CDT

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