Monday, January 28, 2019

Nebraska is Still the Place to Be (and don't forget Iowa)

It was only a few years ago that the Law School Cartel mocked struggling law graduates for their inability to find paying jobs.  The problem, as it was stated, was that these graduates may need to give up their latte-sipping, loft-living, gentrified-urban lifestyles in order to get some experience and compensation.   Tons and tons of Boomers are retiring, and no-one is taking their places.  Hey, the Joads had to go West, so you might have to also, snowflake:

When attorney Phil Garland first hung his shingle in Garner, Iowa, there were five lawyers in town. Over 40 years later, that number hasn’t changed. What has changed, though, is those lawyers’ ages.
“We’ve got three guys in their 60s,” says Garland, who is 73.

Garland is the only one who has hired a younger associate to take over when he retires. That means in a few years, the town and its 3,000 residents could be down to just one attorney to handle everything from real estate transactions and probate work to juvenile issues and criminal cases.

And Garner isn’t the only small town facing that problem. Adams County, Iowa, for instance, boasts only one attorney for its 3,686 residents, while Ringgold County, with 5,034 residents, is home to three, according to the Iowa Bar Association.

Look at all that opportunity, and this is just a small sample!

That dearth of legal help is expected to worsen as baby-boomer attorneys who set up shop in America’s small towns 40 or 50 years ago retire and younger attorneys choose to congregate in cities rather than fill the gap.

“It’s a hard sell to get my students to want to go to Fresno and practice, but it would be a really hard sell to get my students to go and hang out a shingle in a place like Chowchilla,” Pruitt says, referring to a small town 250 miles north of Los Angeles.

Yep!  Get over yourselves, Millennials, you're the problem, not the solution.  The world is your oyster, if you deign to live outside silicon valley, that is.  Back to Iowa:

So Garland helped start the Rural Practice Program, one of several initiatives sprouting up with the aim of introducing new attorneys to the possibility of rural practice. The program organizes meet-and-greets between law students and rural lawyers to set up clerkships for those students in rural areas.

The hope is that some of those older lawyers will hire their clerks as associates after graduation, ensuring that when the older lawyers retire, younger lawyers will be there to pick up the baton.

OK, so what is the catch...?

“When I hired my associate, Carrie, I told her the business is yours when I’m done,” Garland says, promising her that he wouldn’t expect her to “buy out” the practice from him when he retires.

Garland says newly minted attorneys can no longer afford that “buy-out” because of the massive debt they are graduating with. Rodriguez “told me flat out that she’s got a lot of student debt … she said if you’d have had a buy-out I’m sure I wouldn’t have come,” Garland remembers.

“I try to encourage all my contemporaries” to forgo that money, he says. “We had the benefit of a cheap education, these kids today don’t have it.”

That debt is the biggest barrier to luring lawyers to the heartland, according to Pruitt and Garland, making the prospect of a regular salary from an established city firm far more attractive than the vicissitudes of solo practice or the cost of buying into a small firm in a town like Garner.

“Law school debt is just the 600-pound gorilla right now and it’s really constraining students’ choices,” says Pruitt. [emphasis added]

Kudos to Garland and other Boomers like him, and I seriously mean that.  Not only is he taking (self-sacrificing) steps to make a career happen for others and serve his community at the same time, he recognizes the fundamental truth that the Law School Cartel has dishonestly claimed to have been unable to understand - it's the debt, stupid.  Young graduates are not coming because they are "too good" for rural practice, it's because THEY CAN'T AFFORD TO,  unless someone is willing to offer a helping hand.

But, you can't expect a bunch of bubble-living deans, administrators and profs to understand this.  You can, however, expect them to deflect blame and throw the victim under the bus at every opportunity.

0Ls, we here at OTLSS can't say how widespread this phenomenon is, but it is encouraging that actual, work-for-a-living practitioners "get it" and are trying to do something about it.  We still argue that there are too many graduates for too few jobs, rural or not, but perhaps with some planning and a little luck (aka the Garlands of the world) there may be snippets of opportunity.  Don't bet the farm on this, however, as the Cartel will say anything about jobs and statistics, as has already been demonstrated.  And the debt is toxic and constraining, make no mistake, otherwise there would have already been a rural Renaissance of legal plenty.  Do your research before taking the plunge.


  1. I would question the long-term viability of the small town practice, as it relates to the graying/dying out of the older residents. If the attorneys are older, is the demographic also older? More and more people are leaving the family farms and doing urban/suburban living. To earn a decent living, is a young attorney able to earn $15-20 per year off every resident?

    1. Well, deaths mean estates, which in turn may require lawyers.

      Typically lawyers in small towns serve much of the surrounding area. When I worked in a small town, I routinely went to court in places a couple of hours away, and sometimes considerably farther (some matters had to go to the nearest city). Some clients could not travel to my office, so I had to arrange to meet them at a local fast-food joint or similar location when I happened to be in their area for court or on other business.

      Some rural areas are indeed drying up. Most are not. But how much paying work can there be?

    2. Old guy, you have repeatedly asserted that you went to an "elite" law school. I'm going to guess it was Harvard. Anyway, your arguments against bottom-tier law schools are undoubtedly correct (and more effectively argued than some of the other folks here). But your arguments against going to higher-ranked "elite" schools are less convincing. It seems that your disdain is better directed at biglaw culture, including the rather arbitrary hiring and promotion processes, the unmanageable hours often imposed on new associates, and the discriminatory practices, such as age discrimination, to which you have been subject. Shouldn't you be more focused on that, and on criticizing fourth-tier shitholes, rather than attacking legal education generally? After all, for very bright individuals in their early 20's a degree from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Chicago, NYU, Columbia, etc. is, on balance, a good investment. Sure, there are exceptions, but most grads from these schools do quite well.

    3. Why have you raised that out of the blue? We've addressed it many times before. I addressed it again just a week or two ago. Sorry, I'm not going to do so again.

  2. Oh, not this "go to Bumblefuck, Nebraska" bullshit again!

    Numerous observations:

    1) I find it hard to believe that the 3000 people of Garner, Iowa, need five lawyers. They could probably get by without even one. The work there probably consists primarily of divorces, criminal defense, real-estate transactions, wills, and the occasional incorporation. For any major civil suit or commercial endeavor, counsel would probably be brought in from Des Moines or even Minneapolis or Chicago.

    2) Garland's practice won't be worth very much if he and his assistant are the last lawyers left in town, so giving it to her isn't much of a sacrifice. If he wanted much money upon retirement, she could simply quit and start her own firm as the only practitioner in town.

    3) Lawyers do not "choose to congregate in cities": like many other people, they go to cities because that is where the work is. It is true that many lawyers appreciate the cultural and other attractions of big cities. But that doesn't mean that lawyers "choose to" starve in cities rather than taking advantage of lucrative rural opportunities. Any rural opportunities are rare and hard to find. Really, with five lawyers already practicing in a town of 3000 people, is a fresh graduate going to move in and become the sixth? South Dakota some years ago offered a $12k grant, with many strings attached, for starting a law firm in a rural area (all of South Dakota outside Sioux Falls and just maybe Rapid City is rural); but it didn't attract much attention, precisely because there isn't enough paying work in a remote part of South Dakota to support a lawyer.

    4) As it happens, Old Guy did once practice law in a small town that was the biggest thing going within a few hours' drive. It was not easy. It might have worked out financially, but there were other big challenges that made it infeasible. Incidentally, the cost of living there was at least as high as that of the nearest big city (hours away).

    1. (2) Actually, Old Guy, if there were no other lawyers in town, that would make Garland's practice worth more, not less. It's basic economics, simple supply and demand.

      Apparently you didn't need to know anything to get into that "elite" law school of yours. You should have taken the initiative to learn some important things you didn't know. One of the worst effects of the law school scam is students confusing credentials with knowledge, and relying on credentials rather than research to win arguments, in court or online.

      Time to man up and learn more than the other guys know. You could still make a productive career out of your worthless credential.

    2. Very well, O snide one, go ahead and explain why Garland's associate would pay a great deal for his practice in order to become the only lawyer in town when, by not buying it, she would still be the only lawyer in town.

      After that, consider learning some manners.


  3. 5) Law-school scamsters disingenuously blame students and graduates for their plight by insinuating that they turn their noses up at small towns. Where were these oh-so-helpful scamsters when 0Ls were signing up for six figures of non-dischargeable debt? Did they warn those 0Ls that there were no jobs in Boston or Los Angeles and that after graduation they would have to scratch about for work in the rural counties of distant Iowa? Hell, no! They were instead offering fantasies of "global leadership" (sure—out of Fort Wayne, Indiana), "entertainment law" (rub elbows with the many millionaire actors and athletes in Garner, Iowa), "saving dolphins" (not too many of those swimming around on the prairie), "international human rights" (fly non-stop to Geneva or The Hague from the Garner International Airport), "stopping Trump" (any work of this kind would most likely be handled from Washington), and other things that just don't exist in tiny towns (and usually not anywhere else, for that matter).

    6) I'd bet that Rodriguez, the associate who is going to inherit Garland's practice, was living within a few hours of Garner, Iowa, when she was hired. It simply isn't realistic for people to travel at great expense to a distant small town on the off-chance of finding work there.

    7) Crippling debt is indeed the elephant in the room. Rodriguez probably struggles to pay down "a lot of student debt" on whatever she makes in her small-town two-lawyer firm. Perhaps by becoming the only lawyer in town she will eventually make a go of it. Being the only lawyer in town, however, means lacking support and guidance from more experienced counsel. If she came out of a toilet law school in Iowa, she is probably very ill placed to practice on her own, or at all.

    8) Claims of opportunities in rural areas fall into the same category as "JD Advantage" and "You can do anything with a law degree" and "Law school is for everyone"—the category called BS.

  4. "That means in a few years, the town and its 3,000 residents could be down to just one attorney to handle everything from real estate transactions and probate work to juvenile issues and criminal cases."

    Oh for heaven's sake. Garner is 30 mins drive down a major highway from Mason City (30k). I have zero doubt that Mason City lawyers have Hancock County in their service areas. Yeah, the local judge(s?) probably likes having a private lawyer or two in Garner for referrals, GAL work, etc., but economically, there's nothing troubling about x no. of lawyers in a town that's 30 minutes from a regional economic hub.

    It's almost like the people who write these articles have never, like, practiced law in the private sector before.

    1. What is needed in Garner is an über-toilet law school. No, at least three of them. Just think of all of those great legal minds that can't make the long trek to Des Moines or Iowa City or Minneapolis! Without a selection of über-toilets on their doorstep, they might never grace the world with their achievements in the field of Hip-Hop & Global Leadership. Let me write the feasibility study; you can hire the curator for the art collection.

  5. You guys are so full of shit. You go to law school presumably as an informed and mature adult, knowing what it costs, what the likelihood of landing a biglaw job is, and taking the risk that, if you don't graduate in the top 10 or 15% of your class, your employment prospects will diminish. Some make it, some don't. Some get lucky, some don't. Welcome to the vagaries of life and, for that matter, love my friends. Yes, many laws schools are trash and should be eliminated for their exploitative practices, but at the top 25 law schools students know, or should know. the deal. And you don't blame law schools for your failure or success as a lawyer. Blame the victimhood mentality that pervades this blog.

    1. Read my words going back many years, and you'll see that I have never blamed anyone but myself for my plight. I have, however, challenged the law-school scam for taking advantage of thousands of people who are not informed and mature adults—and saddling them with impossible debt, a price that no informed and mature adult would pay for a poor to remote chance at a legal career. No, the lemmings are not innocent; I've never said otherwise, and indeed I have consistently opposed all lawsuits that toileteers have brought against their former law schools. But they are not wholly responsible either. Your message above is singularly unhelpful, except to the scamsters.

    2. No. . .I went to the best law school in my state about 25 years ago, before law school became a scam. In those days the tuition was far lower than it is today, even adjusted for inflation, and the job market was far better. Back then unpaid internships were the exception, paid work for law students was the rule, at least for second and third year students. Back then, the Public Defender's Office would talk to just about any law graduate, and hire the persistent ones. Law worked out for me, and continues to provide me with a nice income. Things have changed vastly since the early 90's, though. There is absolutely nothing wrong with posting here and warning potential law school applicants that if they go to law school, they may very well end up unemployed and deeply in debt. Saying that students "know or should know the deal". . .have you actually talked to a 21 or 22 year old lately? From the perspective of a mature adult most 21-22 year olds know very little about anything. They literally think they can become a Sports Agent like Tom Cruise in that movie, show me the money, after they attend a low-ranked law school. They blabber about careers in "International Law" that scarcely exist. And Law Schools con them into attending. So, yes, this blog is relevant, is important, and people should keep posting here.

    3. One more thing--you say that if you don't graduate in the top 10 or 15 percent of the class--no. . .it is literally top ten period, and at bad schools, only the top 5 percent are likely to get interviews with big firms or federal clerkships. One of the most deceiving things about law school is that people honestly think, well, if I don't make top 10 percent and Law Review, but I do make top 35 percent and write for the Journal of Environmental law, that's similar. . .it is not. . .law school is like a car lot where 10 percent of the cars are new Mercedes and the rest are all rusty junkers. And respectfully I do not know how many times or ways I have to say this: if students and their parents and their friends, boyfriends, girlfriends whatever knew, honestly knew, that the sucker was attending a school where 90 percent of the students literally would not even be allowed to participate in On Campus Interviews (OCI) and that, again, 9 out of ten graduates would be faced with outcomes ranging from uncertain job prospects to awful job prospects, people would stop applying to law school tomorrow. Show me one solitary law school brochure/website/advertisement of any kind, anywhere, that tells potential students 90 percent of you won't even be considered for BigLaw. Show me that, anywhere. . .if you can.

    4. People here have reported that the on-campus interviews are restricted to the top 10% even at faux-prestigious upper-fourth-tier institutions. Sixth-tier institutions might not get any on-campus interviews at all. Which employer, after all, is going to schlep it all the way to Grundy, Virginia, some four hours from the nearest medium-sized city, in order to scrape the bottom of the barrel at the Appalachian School of Law?

      Lemmings seem not to understand just exactly how quickly OCIs become scarce. At Harvard, yes, almost everyone has a good chance at OCIs. Most people do even at a Michigan or a Virginia, or even a Vanderbilt. Not much lower than that we begin to see 20% cut-offs, and then 10%, and then 10% with law review—and more of the employers attending are local or regional. Down in toilet and über-toilet territory, even the top student in the class may struggle to find work—and it probably won't be at a big firm or a federal court unless that student is well connected, in which case that student should have gone to a better law school.

    5. 9:42 you seem to agree with the basic presumption that over half of ABA law schools serve to only create a oversupply of lawyers and should be closed. And not everyone wants a biglaw job. Most just want a smalllaw job or governmentlaw job.

  6. Old guy, I'll admit that I respect you and your intellect, despite your rather sophomoric attacks on law profs, which I'm glad you've realized is rather pedestrian. But you must know that lamenting on this blog isn't going to mitigate your depression, angst, or resentment (or help these pathetic victims who blog here). Stop it. If you want to put your intellect to good use, do something about the problems you identify. I'll say it again, do something. You might f)ind that your influence can lead to meaningful change.

    1. I probably shall stop soon. My work here was done years ago. Certainly I'm not exerting much influence here or elsewhere.

    2. It just seems that a person of your caliber and intellect would be doing other things than commenting on this blog. No disrespect intended, of course.

  7. What the article does not say but which I would like to know is whether this Garland fellow owns the building in which he practices and will sign a long term lease with his practice before he gives it away. These small Midwestern town are full of commercial buildings built when farms were a lot smaller so there were a lot more farm families coming in to shop. Even in New England I have seen one boomer take an of counsel position and give his very nice 1700's office to a charity for the write off. Smart move, a retiring three man group a block away with a similarly very nice 1700's building has had it on the market, furniture and law books included, for years. I know of two firms that bought buildings in the 1980's in an area that was gentrifying before the 1989 real estate collapse. Now they are stuck having to buzz in people who come to their door because no one would ever buy their facilities. One got lucky when the city tore down a vacant building (built in the 1970's) next door which allowed them to acquire a bigger parking lot.

    I figure there's got to be something going on because Garland could probably collect some referral fees sending his clients elsewhere.

    As I have posted in the past, practicing law in a small town is like selling wedding dresses. There are only so many women getting married and so many client files in any given year. There is no way to expand the market. If one bridal shop/law practice closes the others will take up the slack and/or some women or clients will drive to the next-biggest city. And of course the number of marriages is shrinking right along with the number of client files, and you can now buy your big white dress online along with your wills, deeds, incorporation papers, etc.

  8. Call me cynical, but it seems as if these articles show up every couple of years, almost like clockwork. They're in different locations, and in this case the older attorney is more aware of the difficulties facing younger attorneys, but everything else is virtually identical. It's almost as if the reporters are being fed information for an easy story, but of course that would never, ever happen.
    But how in the world did this small town support five attorneys? In a town this size, it seems one or two would be plenty. What is going on in Garner? So I just don't buy it; there may be a small need-very small-for attorneys in rural areas, but those opportunities-if you want to call them that-are few and difficult to identify. It's reasonable for an attorney to worry about paying the bills, and to be concerned about other things, like whether there are schools for his or her kids, or if the kids would need to take a one hour bus ride to school.

    And as a side note-OG, it looks like you've got devoted critics/fans; you should give up this blogging and become a "social influencer". I have no idea what that is, but apparently people actually make a living doing it.

    1. Yes, these articles show up every few years, if not more often. The last one that I read pertained to a town of 1200 or so in North Dakota that was clamoring for a lawyer to replace the one and only, who had recently shut up shop. Plenty of discussion of the alleged need for legal services, none at all of the difficulty of making a living off the mostly small legal problems of 1200 rural people. Before that, it was a remote county in South Dakota, and the only lawyer was still working part time out of his home office. Once again, lots of complaining about the shortage of legal services but not much thought about the viability of a legal practice in an area that might have only a few thousand people in an hour's radius. Tomorrow it will be northern Maine or western Texas or southern Utah, or maybe an island in the Aleutians.

      If rural counties in the Dakotas abound with opportunities, why aren't there any law schools in, say, Minot that specialize in placing their graduates in those places? If that could be done, it might well be beneficial. But it can't be done. Besides, fresh graduates—especially of über-toilets, but even of élite schools—have no business practicing on their own, particularly where the nearest lawyer with adequate experience is more than an hour away.

      Thanks for the personal note. I too don't know what a social influencer is. I suppose that I should look into every possibility.

    2. Just as an aside, many years ago a solo friend of mine in Chicago told me of doing a real estate closing way down deep in downstate Illinois. The going fee for a routine residential closing was 4 times or more the going rate in Chicago. The local lawyer explained that they had so little work there'd be no lawyers anywhere nearby if they didn't offset lower volume with high price. I'm not suggesting anyone move to East Podunk on the basis of that one, dated anecdote, but we all say the glut of lawyers drives down fees. Maybe a shortage of lawyers, or the threat to the consumer of a three-hour round trip, drives fees up to some degree in rural areas.