There is a growing awareness and discussion around the additional challenges facing lawyers practicing in rural counties across the U.S. Due to the decrease of new lawyers moving to rural counties, existing lawyers who have established their practices in these counties have difficulty finding the help they need to manage and grow their practices. This lack of support has led to rural lawyers’ common struggles with feeling overworked and has contributed to the growing access to justice issue. Additionally, rural lawyers face the shared problem of having little to no opportunity for succession planning – further widening the access to justice gap.
Our previous blog post titled A New Approach to Exit and Monetize the Small or Solo Law Practice suggested the use of online lawyer marketplaces as a solution for small and solo practices looking for ways to monetize their practices. By using the online marketplace, a lawyer wanting to exit their practice could now more easily find an associate lawyer to become a potential partner and eventually a successor. Many associate lawyers who have listed themselves in the marketplace to find project-based work assignments would welcome the opportunity to explore the long-term career opportunity that succession would offer. The same solution, as attractive as it is for lawyers in busy metropolitan areas and their suburbs, may be even more attractive to lawyers practicing in rural counties throughout the U.S.
According to a well-documented report by Taier Perlman, who is leading the Rural Law Initiative at Albany Law School’s Government Law Center, 74.3% of surveyed New York rural practitioners were 45 years old or older. That means that within 20-30 years, the majority of rural practitioners will be fully retired, and with no viable successors, the access-to-justice gap will only worsen. Additionally, among their current challenges are overwhelming caseloads, not enough attorneys to assist them, and professional isolation. Over half of the attorneys surveyed for the report indicated that they do not have a viable successor for their practice. Another staggering statistic is that although 20% of Americans live in rural counties, only 2 percent of lawyers practice in these locations, according to Lisa Pruitt, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of Law at the University of California, Davis School of Law. As further described by Jack Karp in his recent article No Country for Old Lawyers: Rural U.S. Faces a Legal Desert, there are various reasons young lawyers are less interested in moving to rural counties to replace those aging rural professionals.
State bar associations and their rural practice committees in Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Colorado and Wisconsin have tried to address this growing problem by finding ways to lure young lawyers to rural counties. Solutions include paying a portion of student debt in exchange for the promise to work for a number of years, free office space, facilitating introductions with rural practitioners and even a bus tour to provide new lawyers with a closer look at the advantages that come with practicing and living in rural America.
Just as an urban or suburban lawyer now has even greater access to on-demand lawyers through the project-based lawyer marketplace, a rural lawyer, with the use of commonly used remote work tools can now reach out, identify and gain access to thousands of lawyers within minutes! What better fit for those lawyers needing assistance than the army of young practitioners looking for work opportunities online. By use of the marketplace, the rural lawyer can connect with unlimited assistance to help manage their workload allowing them to represent more clients, grow their practice and find associates that they could develop relationships with that could lead to long-term employment, partnership and even succession.
Contact Lawyer Exchange founder Bob Meltzer to get the conversation started:
Bob Meltzer - Founder & CEO of Lawyer Exchange
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