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Bar News - April 16, 2014

Book Review: Becoming a Rural Lawyer: A Personal Guide to Establishing a Small Town Practice by Bruce M. Cameron


Lawyer Avenue Press, 2013, 148 pages

The American Legal “Becoming a Rural Lawyer.” Hmm. I thought, that’s easy! After being sworn in, just get on I-93 North and keep driving. That’s essentially what I did more than 43 years ago. I never regretted it.

But you can drive in almost any direction in New Hampshire, even from our major population centers, and in 15-20 minutes find yourself in a rural area. So most of us are in many ways rural attorneys. Certainly it would appear by the author’s own standard that we all are.

The author is a second-career, sole practitioner in Rochester, Minn. (a city the size of Manchester), although the book jacket omits this fact in favor of mentioning that he “lives in a small southeastern Minnesota town of 800.” He has been at it for six years now. He blogs prolifically on the topic of “practicing law beyond the urban sprawl.” His book is available on Amazon. You can read his blog for free.

This book may be helpful to someone who wants to be a rural lawyer; i.e., to practice our profession in a less populated area. Its focus is on a lawyer setting up a solo practice, most likely straight out of law school.

As with many “how-to” books, you may know or intuit much of the information it contains, but it is still useful in that it catalogs and organizes the material. The first 30-40 percent of this volume tends to talk mostly of the considerations in choosing a smaller town to live and work in, the culture shock one may encounter, and so forth.

The author’s style is conversational, laced with humorous allusions peculiar to his own experience. It is a bit repetitious; there are some generalizations that may not apply. The book could have benefitted from another pass by a proofreader, but the errors are minor and do not interfere with the reader’s understanding of the material.

In my opinion, three chapters of this book make it a worthwhile purchase for one contemplating opening up a solo practice. The first is that which covers marketing a rural practice. This subject plainly gets the author’s juices flowing, and he unleashes a nonstop stream of marketing ideas reminiscent of a Gatling Gun. The second is a chapter titled “Hanging Your Shingle,” nominally addressed to the new lawyer just setting up his or her practice, but full of ideas and recommendations, including suggested vendors worthy of consideration by any small office. And the third is “High Tech in a Rural Setting,” a handy primer on Internet access, cloud computing, backups, encryption and the like. Technology may be the salvation for the small, remote law office, but the author appropriately reminds one to confirm that the technology is actually available where the practitioner plans to set up shop.

He also offers some interesting suggestions and identifies the circumstances in which referring a client away can be beneficial to practitioner and client alike, something we can all stand to be reminded of from time it time.

He touches on the challenges of necessarily being something of a generalist in this age of increasing complexity and specialization, but ignores the erosion taking place in some traditional bread-and-butter areas of practice like real estate and family law, which I believe threatens the long-term feasibility of many small, rural practices.

For a book seemingly addressed to new lawyers embarking on a solo practice, I thought he paid too little attention to the importance of mentoring relationships, and he largely ignored the isolated practitioner’s need for collegiality, which can be addressed through bar committee work and section membership.

Some of the best advice in the book comes in the tidbits quoted from other practitioners that are sprinkled liberally throughout the book. A number of them are attributed to Bruce Dorner of Londonderry, NH. Each of the book’s four sections concludes with a chapter titled “In Their Own Words,” which is a collection of such quotations.

The same factors that leave us country lawyers somewhat isolated from colleagues, technology, airports, etc. have also fostered independence and self-reliance in our clients. Early on I recognized this, especially in my old Yankee clients. I admire these traits, and I appreciate the common sense and dry humor of these folks. I am fond of these people.

The relationships we develop with them are complex and special, and they can change the attorney. This book left that out, and I think it is the best part. It may be a tougher row to hoe for those starting out today, but being a country lawyer is a rich way to live and I commend it.

Thomas Pancoast of Pancoast Law Office in Littleton, NH, is a sole practitioner and served on the NH Board of Bar Examiners for 26 years.

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