Friday, October 13, 2017

Innovative program brings attorneys to rural S.D.

After five years, an innovative program to attract attorneys to rural South Dakota is not only thriving, it's growing. More than 60 percent of attorneys in the state live and work in four cities: Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Aberdeen, and the tiny state capital of Pierre, so rural residents often have to travel great distances to access legal representation.

Project Rural Practice was launched in 2013 by the state's Unified Judicial System and the South Dakota Bar Association to address the disparity. They and the legislature pay 35 percent of incentives to help keep attorneys in rural areas. Each attorney receives about $60,000 over five years. After the fifth year, the attorney can choose to stay in the community or move elsewhere. The program's creators hope that, by the fifth year, the attorneys will choose to stay because they've put down roots.

By all accounts, the program is doing well. Two years ago the state expanded it to include an internship program and to let most counties to qualify for the program. "The pilot 16 attorneys of Project Rural Practice have only seen one dropout, and the program has funding to expand to 32 attorneys by 2022," Libby Leyden reports for The Daily Republic in Mitchell. Another group of 16 attorneys is in the process of being accepted and placed in communities, said Suzanne Starr, director of the Division of Policy and Legal Services.

But, "The true measure of real success will be who from the program stays after their fifth year," Starr told Leyden. "We have a lot of kids in law school that want to go home, back to these rural areas and practice law. We are probably going to fill up the next round pretty quickly."

No comments: