I recently read an article in the Atlantic, Observations from 20 Years of Iowa Life, that got my blood boiling. I won’t spend Lawyerist real estate doing a rebuttal. Besides, the nation’s snarkiest T-Shirt company (that just happens to headquarter in Des Moines) took care of that for me. But, as the resident rural blogger, allow me to debunk some of the stereotypes* this article perpetuates that prevent you from considering rural practice.
1. There isn’t interesting work
Reading this article might make you think that the most interesting legal work is left to county prosecuter’s going after meth heads. You would be wrong. As I stated in a prior post, there are sophisticated legal issues in rural areas. Also, you get direct client contact and file responsibility on day one. This is the experience of a fellow estate planner in Winona, Minnesota, Jennifer Knapp. The same day I ran across the Atlantic article, I also ran across this article on Minnesota Public Radio, Rural areas struggle with lack of lawyers. Ms. Knapp left a metro legal job to get the client contact she wanted. She’s found interesting legal work outside of a metro area. And for anyone who’s read the Atlantic article, Winona may be a Mississippi town, but the view is anything but “scuzzy”.
2. Rural areas are no place for the educated
The Atlantic article makes this staggering claim: “[t]hose who stay in rural Iowa are often the elderly waiting to die, those too timid (or lacking in educated) to peer around the bend for better opportunities, an assortment of waste-toids and meth addicts with pale skin and rotted teeth, or those who quixotically believe, like Little Orphan Annie, that ‘The sun’ll come out tomorrow’ “(typo the Atlantic’s). This would leave one to think that rural America is no place for the educated. I guess someone forgot to tell that to my law partner, Scott Springer, who graduated from a top 20 law school during the fat employment years of the early 00’s and chose to open a practice in a rural Minnesota town, or tell that to my collegue, Shawn Vogt Sween, in a neighboring town who, after getting a Harvard law degree, came back to her rural hometown to open a law practice. And, lawyers aren’t the only educated people in rural America. I could go to my small town grocery and find a farmer who could give an explanation of the Euro-crisis or the implosion of MF Global because these sophisticated international financial issues affect their bottom line. No one knows more about global finances and politics than a farmer.
3. You can’t find culture
There’s more to do in rural America than shoot turkeys with rifles (besides, everyone knows you are not allowed to hunt turkeys with a rifle) or head to tractor pulls (we only have those once a year at the county fair, anyway). As a foodie, I live in heaven. The same bluffs surrounding “scuzzy” Mississippi towns are havens for morel hunters. My office is fifteen minutes from restaurant that make my European relatives salivate and this weekend, I’m going to a winery opening ten minutes from my house. Last weekend, I got my classical music on, not just by attending a symphony concert in a town better known for Spam (the meat kind), but by playing 3rd clarinet in a Gustav Holst piece.
Not everyone is cut out for rural practice and not everyone will find a fulfilling life-work balance in a metro area. But, in your job search, do your own investigation, don’t rely on stereotypes to dictate the right fit for you.
*I realize that I live and work in Minnesota and these piece is about Iowa. But, I live a wind turbine blade away from rural Iowa. I went to law school in Des Moines. I may live in Minnesota and have grown up in South Dakota, which normally gives me license to mock and ridicule my neighbor to the south, but this article perpetuates stereotypes people have about the rural Upper Midwest in general that I just have to do my part in debunking.
Originally published on December 23rd, 2011 and updated on July 18th, 2019