South Dakota Pays Lawyers to Practice in Rural Areas

To help rural America's drought of lawyers, South Dakota has passed the nation's first law to pay them to live and work in rural areas.


Just 2 percent of law firms are located in rural America, yet nearly 25 percent of America lives in the country, reports the New York Times. The problem is expected to grow with urbanization, so the American Bar Association asked all levels of government last year to take action to reverse the trend. South Dakota became the first state to respond to that call last month, passing the nation's first law to pay lawyers to live and work in rural areas.

The law creates a four-year pilot program, to begin in July, that will pay lawyers 90 percent of the resident tuition for the University of South Dakota School of Law. Participating attorneys must practice full-time for five years in counties with populations of 10,000 or less. Counties are responsible for contributing 35 percent of the incentive cost with the rest being paid by the State Bar Association and the state.

"This bill will hopefully help provide not only the citizens with access to an attorney, but will work toward ensuring that our local rural county governments, school boards, cities and towns have access to legal services in those underserved areas as well," said the state's chief justice, David Gilbertson.

The program is similar to a national model that's been in place for decades for doctors, nurses and dentists.

Brian Peteritas is a GOVERNING contributor.