I'm new to Nebraska, and new to rural practice. When I lived in South Dakota, I practiced law from Rapid City, and ventured to other, smaller towns for the occasional case. In Nebraska, I live and practice in a much more rural setting. Holdrege is a town of about 5,000 people, set in a county of about 10,000 people. However, many of my cases come out of the surrounding counties, the county seats of which are much smaller.
When I was a law student, I distinctly remember the Chief Justice of the South Dakota Supreme Court, David Gilbertson speaking to law students about the absence of attorneys in many rural communities and the problems this was creating in the administration of justice. I remember thinking that rural practice could be an excellent opportunity, but not having a clue as to how one would find out about rural communities in need of attorneys.
Well, the South Dakota State Bar Association has taken up the challenge of studying the decline of rural law practice through its recent announcement of the creation of the Rural Practice Task Force (see page 2 of the State Bar Newsletter). This development has been widely reported on, both within South Dakota (see the Argus Leader's coverage), as well as more widespread national coverage (see the Wall Street Journal Law Blog's coverage, see this post from the Rural Lawyer blog, and see this post from My Shingle).
So why am I posting on this topic on a blog devoted to Nebraska legal issues? Because the state of Nebraska faces similar challenges. In my short time thus far practicing law in Nebraska, I have already heard from one judge and multiple attorneys about the need for attorneys in certain rural communities, as well as the gratitude and relief that some new attorneys are moving to more rural communities to begin their careers.
What should be done to address the problem of 'justice denied' in rural communities? I'm not exactly sure, but I think that the task force created by the South Dakota State Bar is an excellent first step. I, for one, will be following the task force's activity to see what they discover.