The Illinois State Bar Association is recruiting law students and newer attorneys to rural Illinois.
Its Rural Practice Fellowship Program is designed to address the shortage of lawyers in the less-populated regions of Illinois by connecting rural and small-town law firms with law students and newer attorneys who are interested in practicing in this setting.
The disappearance of rural lawyers in Illinois has been well-documented. According to the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission, of the 65,723 active and inactive lawyers in Illinois in 2020, almost 87% were located in the state’s six most populous counties (Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will counties), and 82% were in Cook County alone.
When it comes to new attorneys, of the 7,872 lawyers who were admitted and practice in Illinois over the last four years, 72 counties have received 5 or fewer of these attorneys and 33 counties have received no new attorneys.
Rural lawyers + access to justice challenges
This concentration of attorneys in urban areas isn’t new but can lead to significant succession planning and access to justice issues.
Due to the high cost of law school, many younger lawyers can’t afford to begin practice with the generally lower salaries available in rural areas.
This leaves established practitioners in rural areas struggling to transition or expand their practices and clients traveling long distances to see a lawyer, which may not be feasible, especially for low-income individuals.
While the Commission put forward ways the profession can better embrace technology and innovative business structures to serve those in rural areas, the challenge of urbanization remains.
ISBA Rural Practice Initiative
The ISBA has been at the forefront of tackling the rural lawyer shortage in Illinois. Through its Rural Practice Initiative, the organization has created two programs to support law students and lawyers who are passionate about serving those in a rural setting.
- The Rural Practice Summer Fellows program aims to connect law students with rural practitioners and to give them a taste of rural practice before they leave law school. The program includes a $5,000 fellowship grant.
- The Rural Practice Associate Fellows program aims to place graduating law students and new attorneys as permanent associates with rural lawyers. The program includes a $5,000 stipend at the beginning of employment and an additional $5,000 stipend if the associate is still working for the same firm after one year.
Fellows gain other benefits including assistance in identifying quality job placements in rural areas, mentorship programs geared toward young attorneys in rural practice, and networking opportunities with the local business community.
Interested in applying? You can do so here: isba.org/ruralpractice. The deadline for applications is February 4, 2022.
Is your rural law firm recruiting?
The Rural Practice Initiative is also accepting applications for lawyers and firms interested in employing a fellow. The ISBA will:
- Assist in identifying and hiring qualified, prescreened summer clerks and associates
- Provide access to high-quality training and support to help integrate new attorneys into your business
- Subsidize the salary you can pay so you can attract high-quality employees
Apply to employ a fellow here: isba.org/ruralpractice. The deadline for applications is February 4, 2022.
Questions? Please email RPFellows@isba.org.
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