Monday, April 1, 2013

South Dakota passes law providing financial incentive for attorneys to set up shop in rural areas

According to the National Law Journal story, this makes South Dakota the first state in the nation to pay lawyers to practice in underserved, rural areas.  But don't pack your bags yet, the program anticipates only 16 attorneys will be eligible and they're already in South Dakota, it's just a matter of shifting them from one place to another. The program is modeled after those already in use to get doctors, dentists and nurses into underserved rural areas though it is not limited to brand new law grads, all can apply no matter their age.

South Dakota offers subsidies to lure lawyers to its small towns

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Governor Dennis Daugaard on March 21 signed first-in-the-nation legislation establishing incentive payments to as many as 16 attorneys who agree to practice in rural areas for at least five years. If the pilot program works, it could provide a blueprint for others states desperate for small-town lawyers. "South Dakota has enough attorneys — they're just not in the right locations," said state Senator Mike Vehle, who sponsored the bill. "We do this for doctors, dentists and nurses, so why not lawyers?"

Participating attorneys will receive the equivalent of 90 percent of the in-state tuition and fees at the University of South Dakota School of Law — about $12,000 — for each of the five years that they practice full-time in a rural county. That's on top of any earnings from their practice during the subsidy period, said Greg Sattizahn, director of policy and legal services for the South Dakota Unified Judicial System. The program will cost nearly $1 million, with the state picking up half the tab.

Vehle and Chief Justice David Gilbertson patterned the subsidy after a well-established incentive program for rural doctors, dentists and nurses. Gilbertson has been increasingly concerned about the decline in rural attorneys since he became the state's top judge in 2001. "I had made a commitment to visit each courthouse in the state, and as I drove around the rural areas it became obvious to me that the attorneys I used to know were gone," he said. "They had died or moved away, and no one had replaced them." Younger attorneys, it seems, prefer to live and practice in cities.

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