Saturday, July 20, 2019

A historical nugget: The ethical responsibilities of small town lawyers

On October 14, 1949, the Boston Globe ran a story that discussed lawyers in rural Wisconsin and the amount of clout that they had in the community. The article mentioned that lawyers were more highly regarded in the state than clergy. The source, of course, was hardly scientific. The article came about because of a comment from a lawyer at National Association of Legal Aid Organizations, which took place at the Hotel Somerset in Boston. The article is useful however because it gives us a glimpse into the attitude towards the legal profession in at least one rural space in the first half of the 20th century.

The article (a snippet of which is to the right) also talks about the role of small town citizens in regulating the conduct of lawyers. This is an important feature of small town practice and of small town life in general. A lawyer in a small town generally relies on his personal and professional reputation to grow his or her client base. If a lawyer were to misbehave or behave unethically, it wouldn't take very long for the community to learn about it.

I also share this to note the long recognition of the role of a lawyer in a rural community. A rural lawyer has historically not functioned as a 9-5 job where the person was done with their job when they clocked out. In a city, a lawyer can blend into a general population and can stop being a "lawyer." In a rural space, a lawyer is always the lawyer.


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