A New York Times article earlier this week focused on something many lawyers are looking for: a place to practice with virtually no competition. That place is rural America.

According to the article, nearly one-fifth of Americans live in rural areas, but less than two percent of law practices are located there. In Bennett County, S.D., Fred Cozad, the lone lawyer that has been serving this county seat for 64 years, is retiring. When he does, the nearest lawyer will be 120 miles away.

Last month, South Dakota became the first state to pass a law to incentivize attorneys to practice in rural areas, offering an annual subsidy similar to the ones healthcare providers have enjoyed for years. 

Cozad says there is plenty of work and opportunity for lawyers in Bennett County. The county and the city of Martin have to bring in lawyers to handle municipal legal matters, further taxing already slim budgets. 

Thomas Barnett, executive director of the State Bar of South Dakota, says that opportunities for highly varied legal work is especially great in rural areas, where help is needed for everything from land law to estate planning to contract law to family law. 

The new law designed to attract lawyers to rural areas in South Dakota goes into effect in June, and includes a $12,000 annual subsidy. A five-year commitment is required, and the pilot program hopes to attract at least 16 participants.

Of course, South Dakota is not the only state facing this problem. If the thought of 6-month winters depresses you, there are other more temperate states with underserved rural areas, including Georgia, Arizona and Texas.

If this has piqued your interest, check with your state bar; several have programs already in place to seed attorneys into rural areas.


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