Nebraska readies debt relief program for law grads practicing in rural areas; 2L learns the ropes

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Nebraska College of Law student Alissa Doerr clerked with a small-town lawyer this summer, seeking the experience she needs to set up a similar practice and take advantage of the state’s debt relief program for rural lawyers.

Doerr worked in Center, Nebraska, home to only 94 residents, the Washington Post reports. She clerked for lawyer John Thomas, 61, who would like to find a successor so he can retire. Doerr learned from Thomas as he worked on family estates and farm sales, and handled criminal cases as the county attorney. She applied during her second year of law school and was his first applicant for a clerk job in 20 years.

Center is in Knox County, home to only 12 lawyers, eight of whom are over 60 and would like to retire, according to the Post. The county has shrunk from 19,100 residents in 1930 to 8,560 today. Knox County’s lawyer count surpasses that of at least 12 counties in Nebraska, where there are no lawyers at all.

Guidelines are being drawn up for the state’s new Rural Practice Loan Repayment Assistance Program, which takes effect next year, the story says. Under the program, law grads who work in counties with fewer than 15,000 residents can receive up to $42,000 in student debt relief. The maximum is paid to those who practice in those areas for 10 years.

Doerr grew up in Nebraska County, but she is unsure if she will practice there. Her boyfriend has a construction business 120 miles away.

Prior coverage: “Lawyer shortage in rural Nebraska is target of state bar initiative”

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