There is a decline in the number of main street lawyers in rural communities throughout the United States. From the report submitted by the State Bar of South Dakota to the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association:
In small, rural communities the aging of the profession is pronounced with the average age of lawyers serving those communities climbing. The troubling aspect of the demographic data for small communities in rural areas is more apparent when combined with the national trend among young lawyers who prefer an urban based practice in significant numbers.
Assuring that main streets in rural America include a law practice is not an isolated Bar issue. It is not limited to access to justice. It is linked to the very survival of many key elements that define the distinctive quality of life in all of rural America. The decline of main street lawyers is directly connected to the health of the local economy, impacts shrinking governmental budgets, and is key to effective advocacy to ward off discussions about courthouse closings and county consolidation. Fred Cozad, a mentor to so many lawyers but the only lawyer in Martin, SD, is the epitome of a country lawyer who has thrived in a rural community. Yet, his practice of 64 years spanning 8 decades, the loyal clients he has served and the town of Martin are at risk because he does not have a successor. Because of these threats, this issue is not just a lawyer problem, it is a community problem.
In response to speeches invoking Atticus Finch and hometown heroes, the ABA's House of Delegates on Tuesday adopted a resolution (PDF) urging federal, state, territorial, tribal and local governments to support efforts to address the decline in the number of lawyers practicing in rural areas and to address access to justice issues for residents in rural America.
Perhaps this is a problem that the crisis in legal employment will help solve. Notably, the newest section of the State Bar of Michigan, formed just last month, is the Agricultural Law Section. Look for it as an option on your September dues invoice.
Photo: Good Hart, Michigan, by Bobak Ha'Eri