Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Shortages, aging workforce leading Wisconsin to try to draw young attorneys to rural areas

Lawyer shortages have plagued some rural areas. One such area in dire need of attorneys is northern Wisconsin, where nine counties have 10 or fewer attorneys practicing, Danielle Kaeding reports for Wisconsin Public Radio. Overall, 15 of the state's 72 counties have 10 or fewer active attorneys and less than 40 percent of the state's 12,752 active attorneys practice law in rural areas, according to the State Bar of Wisconsin.

Another problem is that many rural attorneys are getting close to retirement age, with 53 percent of the 17,000 attorneys residing in the state 50 or older, Kaeding writes. Amy Ferguson, co-chair of the State Bar’s New Lawyer Challenges Committee, "said the numbers raise concerns about access to justice in rural areas." She told Kaeding, "We’re seeing trends in aging out. A lot of lawyers in our area are in their upper fifties, lower sixties, seventies—even some of them looking to maybe retire soon, maybe pass on their businesses, their practices—just moving on."

Rural Wisconsin is struggling to draw recent law school graduates, who often have student loan debt ranging from $84,000 to $122,000, according to 2012 data from the American Bar Association, Kaeding reports. One way the New Lawyer Challenges Committee is trying to open up the possibility of practicing in rural areas, as opposed to urban ones, is to offer rural bus tours to young lawyers and law students to let them see the benefits of rural life.

Ferguson, who opted to practice in rural Rhinelander, said of the benefits of rural life, “It’s a little quieter. There’s not as much hustle and bustle, not as much traffic—things like that. And you can still have a very successful, rewarding, exciting legal practice in this area. It’s a closer knit legal community, which, to me, that collegiality is really a huge benefit and a huge draw to practicing and living up here."

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