Small Towns, Big Gesture: Bar Associations Push Law Students Back to Main Street

In an effort to bring more lawyers to communities in need, the Nebraska State Bar Association has launched a program to place law clerks in small-town practices across the state. The American Bar Association is footing part of the bill through a grant.

The bright lights of big cities are a big draw for many law students. That doesn’t mean the need for lawyers in not-so-big cities goes away, however.

It’s a lingering problem the Nebraska State Bar Association (NSBA) is trying to solve with its Rural Practice Initiative, a program that helps expose those entering the legal world to the opportunities small towns can offer them. The association launched the program last year, hopping off the work of a similar program in Iowa.

You can tell them how great rural life and practice is until you are blue in the face. But you won’t convince them until you show them.

“What we’re trying to do is to show those who are receptive that the bird in the hand may not be their best bet. The cost of living (in small towns) can be cheaper,” NSBA President Michael Fenner explained to the Omaha World-Herald.

The state definitely needs such a program. Of the 93 counties in Nebraska, nearly a quarter—22—have three or fewer lawyers. And 12 others have no practicing lawyers. Part of the problem is that many practicing lawyers are growing old—leading to situations where client needs essentially prevent lawyers from retiring.

Getting Room to Expand

NSBA’s program, now in its second year, recently received a $15,000 grant from the American Bar Association’s Legal Access Catalyst Grant Program to give more students and rural law firms the opportunity to take advantage of the five-week program in 2015.

Law firms or attorneys taking part will receive $1,000—meant to cover a third of the student’s salary—while students will receive a $500 stipend from the legal association for housing needs. The $15,000 will help pay for 10 additional law clerks next summer.

The hope, Fenner says, is that the program will prove convincing to the students, eventually leading them to start small-town practices of their own.

“Graduating law students are like jurors: You must show them,” he explains in a news release [PDF]. “You can tell them how great rural life and practice is until you are blue in the face. But you won’t convince them until you show them.”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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