The State Bar president envisions developing a website that will connect lawyers looking for jobs with communities short on legal representation to combat the shortage of attorneys in South Dakota's rural communities.
The website is part of an ongoing recruitment initiative called Project Rural Practice, developed to fill the gaps as older attorneys retire with no one to take over their businesses, Bar President Pat Goetzinger told The Associated Press. Sixty-five percent of the state's 1,861 attorneys are in four cities: Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Aberdeen and Pierre, Bar data shows.
"I see the website being particularly useful in the match side of it," Goetzinger said in a Wednesday interview. "The communities can plug in and have links ... so that a lawyer (who's) looking into that community can see what that community has to offer."
People living in rural areas sometimes have to travel further for legal advice, meaning rural cases are slow to be resolved. Cash-strapped communities are spending more money to bring in lawyers for board and commission meetings, while businesses and estates that used to turn to one person for legal guidance have to use firms with multiple specialists, making the process less personal.
Goetzinger said the website, which would include resources on starting and maintaining a rural practice, must first be approved by the group's commissioners, but he anticipates it to be operational by the end of the summer or early fall. Task force members are working on a mockup.
Thomas Geu, interim dean at The University of South Dakota School of Law and a member of the task force, said some lawyers prefer to practice in rural areas because of the quality of life. But the countrywide urban sprawl means fewer law students are coming from rural areas, and many have little knowledge of _ or desire to find out _ what small-town life is like.
He's hoping the Rural Practice initiative and website can help change that.
Matching community needs with available lawyers is "one of the key components to deliver on some of the goals of Project Rural Practice," Geu said.
The Project Rural Practice task force is next scheduled to meet April 10 in Howard. Goetzinger said he is planning a dinner for April 9 that will recognize the five active Bar lawyers in South Dakota who have practiced for 60 years or more.
By The Associated Press
Source: The Rapid City Journal