Last week, I wrote an article about how people shouldn’t think that starting a law firm is an easy solution for unemployment. I received some great emails from readers about the piece, including one message from an attorney who had a unique perspective. That lawyer related how many rural communities across the country do not have enough lawyers. The attorney conveyed that the number of lawyers who are involved in certain practice areas can be counted on one hand in some places and that many lawyers may wish to hang out a shingle in rural areas, since it would be easier to find legal work. While I think it is still risky to start a law firm as a solution to unemployment no matter where you intend to practice, that email got me thinking about how more people should seriously consider practicing law in more rural parts of the country.
Although I always liked the show Green Acres when it came on Nick at Night as a kid, I never seriously considered moving to the country to practice law. I have stayed in the New York City area for pretty much the entirety of my career, although I also have an office in the Jersey suburbs (but the office is still just 10 miles from Manhattan!). However, earlier in my career, I got a taste of what practicing law in rural areas might be like.
Before launching my own shop, I was a mass torts attorney at a law firm that frequently sent me on depositions across the East Coast. I spent around 70 nights a year in hotels, and I ate more meals in chain restaurants on the road than I care to remember. Many of the depositions I took were in very rural locations. Indeed, some of the areas I traveled to did not have any discernible cell phone reception (which was super scary when driving with GPS on my phone). I even saw a few “runaway truck” ramps on the side of the road in some rural areas, which was an extremely foreign concept to me before I made trips to rural areas in order to take depositions.
At many of the depositions I attended in rural areas, attorneys from more populated cities would also travel to take the testimony of the person we were deposing. However, numerous times, local counsel would attend the depositions. Many defendants realized that local counsel was cheaper than attorneys who came from bigger cities, and local counsel did not charge as much for travel time or costs as “big city” lawyers.
Oftentimes, all of the attorneys who were in a rural area to attend a deposition would meet up after the proceedings for dinner or any other mishigas we could find. Over the course of several years attending these depositions, I got to know some of these rural lawyers really well, and we often discussed how practicing law was different in the country than it was in major cities.
Attorneys in rural areas would often tell me about how courteous and civil the practice of law was in rural areas, and how there was less conflict among adversaries. These lawyers would tell me that attorneys got along with their counterparts a lot more in rural locations than they typically did in urban areas, and this made the practice of law much more easy-going in the country. As I can attest to from personal experience, practicing law in more populated areas can be extremely adversarial (often for no reason) and that can cause unnecessary aggravation, leading to a high level of stress (and probably blood pressure!). As such, many attorneys may prefer the more laid-back lifestyle of a country lawyer.
In addition, rural attorneys told me all the time how much further money went in rural communities, and many of these lawyers had mansions and huge plots of land by my more suburban standards. In fact, I knew one attorney who moved to a rural area for the express purpose of having land and saving money on housing costs. Even though that attorney had almost no land in the suburbs, he was able to afford a large house and had a ton of acreage in a rural area. The attorney even had a bunch of chickens that he used for eggs, which I always thought was a pretty cool benefit of country living!
Furthermore, rural lawyers are often much more able to get noticed in the legal and political communities of their area. Rural lawyers oftentimes have ample opportunities to be considered for judicial and political appointments and to be more civically involved. It is extremely difficult for a lawyer to stand out when there are thousands of attorneys in their area, but that is not the case when only a handful of attorneys practice law in a community.
In the end, people have known for some time that there is a higher demand for legal service in rural areas than in many cities. As a result, if you are thinking about having a fresh start and launching your own law firm, it might make sense to practice law in a rural area. You will possibly be more successful in finding legal work, and the lifestyle of a country lawyer may be appealing to many attorneys.