The struggle to find professionals who are willing to enter the rural heartland is not one that is unbeknownst to anyone. There are consistent reports of lawyers lacking a presence in rural America. Federal grants have been available for decades to doctors, nurses and dentists who are willing to relocate to rural areas, however, lawyers have not been included in similar grant programs until know. South Dakota is launching a program similar to the grant programs that have been available to other professionals. The grant is believed to be one of the first of its kind and it will compensate lawyers who are willing to relocate and practice in rural areas. The program is funded by the state’s judicial system, the counties, and the South Dakota Bar Association. The program offers an annual subsidy of $12,000 to live and practice in rural communities.
Programs such as this are important for rural areas, as residents will occasionally have to travel 100 miles for legal advice. This program will hopefully serve as a huge boost to South Dakota's rural legal supply. Currently, South Dakota's urban cities are where most lawyers reside; 65% of the state's lawyers reside in four urban areas. Other states also struggle in their efforts to provide legal aid to their rural residents. For example, in Nebraska 12 of the 93 counties have no practicing attorneys.
Subsidies to income, such as provided in South Dakota, serve to lure young lawyers into serving rural areas. Student loans and overall debt is a major factor in the rural recruiting challenge. Urban areas offer the big law firms that can pay higher salaries. In addition to the lure of big law prospects, urban areas offer access to entertainment and other young professionals.
Nebraska has also taken steps to lure young lawyers into serving the rural populace. Indeed, next year Nebraska will repay loans for law school graduates who commit to serving a minimum of three years in the underserved communities of the state.
I cannot speak for all law students, but this is a very attractive offer, especially as law school debt surpasses $100,000 and the loan forgiveness for public service employees does not occur until 10 years of service.