Attorneys in Rural Areas and Law Schools

Although the number of truly rural areas has dwindled over the past half-century, rural life still exists throughout America. In the rural environment the principal industries – farming, ranching, logging, fishing – require space. The number of people per square mile is minimal, and the towns are miles apart.

In rural areas the population may be as low as ten thousand people (and frequently fewer – the least populous country in the United States, Loving Country, Texas, has fewer than two hundred people). Small towns of several hundred to several thousand continue to serve as local markets and gathering places. Having been spared the major government and industrial complexes that have promoted the growth of their larger neighbors, these areas sometimes seem like lands that time forgot.

The bar in these small towns will be small and intimate, with population-attorney ratios of one thousand to one or greater. Towns of ten to twenty lawyers are not uncommon, and some towns may not even have a single resident attorney. Still, the legal business gets done, some would say more quickly and efficiently than in the cities. Deals may be consummated over downside, lawyer income is likely to be less and legal work may be routine (“womb to tomb” as one small-town lawyer equipped). Everyone knows everything about everyone else’s business (and personal life). And the lack of access to cultural events may be oppressive to some.

If there is a segment of the population that remains under-lawyered, it is probably those who live in rural areas. Most law students come from urban centers and return to similar surroundings upon graduation. Even those who grew up in small towns frequently remain in larger cities after college and law school. This has resulted in a drain of talent, not just in law but in other professions as well, from rural areas. For those willing to make the commitment to this lifestyle, however, a satisfying future may lie in store.

Law Schools

There are over 180 law schools in the United States approved by the American Bar Association, and several dozen more not approved by the ABA (see the Appendix), Graduates of ABA-approved law schools can take the bar examination and become licensed to practice law in every state in the elimination and become licensed to practice law in every state in the United States, whereas graduates of non-ABA-approved schools typically can only sit for the bar exam in the state where their law school is physically located.