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States Working to Move Lawyers Into Rural Areas
South Dakota has begun a program that aims at moving lawyers into rural areas, according to The Ledger-Enquirer.

There will be 16 attorneys accepted into the program, which provides lawyers with a $12,000 annual subsidy.

The program is funded by the South Dakota Bar Association, the state’s judicial system and the counties within the state.

Jake Fischer is one of those 16 attorneys. He moved to Corsica from Minneapolis to practice law in a town of 600. He is the only attorney in the town and just one of two full-time attorneys in a county that is home to 3,000 people.

"Being in a small town, of course you have to do a little bit of everything, criminal law, land deals, business deals, estate planning, the whole range of stuff really," Fischer said.

Some rural residents in South Dakota find themselves driving 100 miles to seek legal advice. Other states are struggling to attract attorneys to rural areas.

There are 93 counties in Nebraska and 12 of them do not have a single practicing attorney. In the state of Georgia, just 30 percent of the attorneys practice outside of Atlanta. Even New York City struggles with getting lawyers into rural areas. There are 170,000 practicing attorneys in the state, with 60 percent of them practicing in New York City.

David Gilbertson, the South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice, said, "You can have the courthouse doors wide open, you can have the judge sitting in the courthouse, but without lawyers to represent the clients, nothing is going to happen, or very little. They make the whole system work."

Towns struggling with money issues need to hire lawyers from other towns to participate in commission and board meetings. They are also hired to work as court-appointed defenders and prosecutors.

The past president of the American Bar Association, Jim Silkenat, said that South Dakota has “led the way” in attracting attorneys to rural areas. He also said that there are other states working to do the same.

Law school graduates in Nebraska will have their law school loans repaid if they commit to work three years in under-served towns in the state. This program will start in 2015. The Nebraska Bar Association will team with two law schools to provide summer clerkships at rural law firms.

The American Bar Association granted $15,000 to the Legal Aid of Arkansas to help fund fellowships for brand new lawyers who practice in rural areas for at least one year.

"One of the big things, honestly, that my wife and I thought about is losing some of the culture, losing some of the entertainment, and things like that," Fischer said. "But the Internet has opened up so much stuff that you can get whatever you want. You can access music and movies and all that stuff. We all have the same resources."


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