Friday 5: Disadvantages to Being a Rural Attorney
In part 1, I covered 5 reasons why you should practice law in rural communities. In the spirit of fairness, here is the other side to the story.
Accessibility. Access to legal communities, and more importantly, access to justice is lacking. This can potentially harm the attorney through overwork or over-commitment. While this can and does happen in an urban setting, it can at least be somewhat mitigated due to the variety of the market. In the country, you may be the only lawyer a town or a person will see. This can place pressure on the new attorney who’s just starting their practice by trying to be all things to everyone.
Specialized cases. I’ve had attorneys tell me that one of the biggest difficulties to the rural practice is getting a case that no one has dealt with before. This happens in big cities, too, but in the urban legal population, you have access to more resources and attorneys. In the country, there are fewer attorneys to draw from and the resources are spread much more thinly, making it hard to accept that unconventional case right off the bat. However, with new technology and our growing ability to access data and information in a nanosecond, this might become less of a problem as the legal industry continues to evolve.
The grapevine. While it can be great to be well-known in a community, some of us prefer to keep to ourselves. This is much easier to do in the city, where you can turn a corner and be lost in the crowds. Unless you like your neighbors knowing that your son Timmy skipped school again — and receiving messages from 15 of them letting you know — the country might not be the place for you.
Community acceptance. In the city, you have the luxury of choosing with whom you associate. In the country, the role is reversed and you must be accepted by the community. This can be tricky for someone who doesn’t already have community ties. It can be hard to be the outsider in a close-knit community. Realistically, though, moving to a new town means that the house you bought will probably always be the “old Anderson house” on the hill.
Income. This is always a factor when choosing a place to live or practice law. While your adjusted income can be much higher due to lower cost-of-living expenses, many of your clients are not going to have a lot of extra money to pay for legal services. Of course, this can end up hurting your bottom line: if clients can’t pay, you don’t get paid. Despite the possibility of not earning a six-figure salary, the riches you get from being involved in a community that you care about and that cares about you can outweigh a ding in salary. And there is a certain pride in being able to buy a house or 20 acres of land on a salary that wouldn’t even get you a studio apartment in Seattle.