In recent years, there’s been discussion about oversaturated legal markets. With the reality of a down economy and more lawyers being licensed every year, it can be difficult to find a job, let alone one using your legal skills.
A source of law jobs that law students can overlook is the legal community outside of metro areas.
Lawyerist contributor, Eric Cooperstein, recently shared a lament from a rural colleague about attracting legal talent in a recent post. His post created quite a stir, on Lawyerist and elsewhere. As the resident rural blogger, I look forward to tackling some of the points brought up in future posts. One issue is addressing common misperceptions that keep people from exploring job opportunities in rural areas. Most of these notions are, frankly, unfounded and may keep you from finding the perfect law job.
Practicing in a metro area is playing on the varsity squad (so if I’m not in a metro area…).
This was a belief that I had coming out of law school. It took a year working as a law clerk in Mower County, Minnesota to find out I was completely off the mark. On the one hand, it may seem like there’s more competition for jobs in the metro areas. On the other, it can be easy for less than stellar legal minds to blend into large legal communities. If you’re practicing in an area with few attorneys and appear in front of the same judges week in and week out, you can’t afford to be practicing on anything less than your A-game. Frankly, there are great attorneys in the metro and in the country and there are poor attorneys in the metro and in the country.
I won’t have as complex or interesting work.
This is perhaps the biggest misconception of rural practice. Business owners, people with large estates, and families with complex issues are located everywhere. Don’t assume that people in rural communities who need sophisticated legal services look for services in metro areas. In fact, clients in rural areas are like clients anywhere. They want to work with a professional they trust and are comfortable with. Usually, the fact that you are local will do more to attract those clients than anything else.
Another point is practicing in smaller firms, which make up most of the law offices outside of a metro, will usually mean greater contact with clients and greater responsibility on the file. Smaller firms don’t have the manpower to keep associates locked away in back rooms doing legal research. Attorneys who practice in rural areas tend to find themselves sent to the courthouse and meeting with clients as soon as they start. While you may initially feel like you’re being thrown in the deep end, you’ll be a better attorney for the early experience and may find yourself having more interesting work than your classmates in the metro.
I won’t be able to specialize.
There is some merit to this belief. At least initially, you may find yourself offering, shall I say, full legal services. In a metro, specialization will help you stand out from the competition. In a rural area, over specialization may keep you from having enough work. That being said, most attorneys in rural areas end up practicing in a few related areas, trial work or transactional work, while referring other types of work to their colleagues. Also not specializing, at least initially, can be a benefit. You may find that you love working in an area of law that you never thought you would have. If you are never in a position to try practicing in different areas of law, you may miss out on satisfying work.
Keep an open mind. Explore job opportunities and do your homework. You may find that the perfect law job is waiting for you out in the country.