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Bar News - May 20, 2015

Rural Lawyer Project Aims to Increase Access


NHBA President Lisa Wellman-Ally in the office of her solo firm in Claremont.
Towns without lawyers are often bereft of the expertise and community involvement that many attorneys lend to their rural hometowns in New Hampshire. Residents of those towns are without easy access to an in-person meeting with someone familiar who might know how to solve their problems. And, meanwhile, lawyers search for work in more populated areas, never knowing the sense of belonging and pride that comes with being “the town lawyer.”

The NH Rural Lawyer Initiative, a project of New Hampshire Bar Association President Lisa Wellman-Ally, seeks to address all of these issues, one lawyer and one town at a time.

By providing extra support over an 18-month period through subsidized bar membership dues and continuing legal education, as well as mentoring, law practice management consulting, and other assistance, the Bar Association hopes to help selected attorneys set up thriving law practices in rural areas of New Hampshire.

“There’s a lifestyle choice that can be made in which you can achieve a work-life balance and have time, not only for your family, but also being involved in the community,” says Wellman-Ally, who has a solo practice in Claremont, the lone small city in rural Sullivan County. “There are benefits that extend beyond just the paycheck, and that’s one of the things that makes rural practice so valuable to people. You get to make a difference in people’s lives.”

The application process for the Rural Lawyer Initiative invites interested attorneys to be considered for project participation by mapping out a preliminary business plan and submitting other related information by July 1. Several lawyers and law students have already indicated that they would like to apply, Wellman-Ally says.

Because rural parts of New Hampshire tend to have significant populations of low-income people, the project seeks to find lawyers who envision opening “moderate means” practices that include a strong focus on providing unbundled legal services or reduced-fee representation.

“The goal is to improve access to justice for underserved citizens and to employ underemployed attorneys,” says Wellman-Ally, who was featured on NH Public Radio earlier this year to discuss the dearth of lawyers in rural New Hampshire. “The key is to get attorneys who are going to move to a rural area and stay there. That’s what I’m hoping – that they’ll be integrated into the rural communities and they’ll want to stay.”

Other states, including Vermont, have begun exploring ways to draw young lawyers to rural areas. In New Hampshire, the issue has attracted the attention of the NH Access to Justice Commission and the NHBA Leadership Academy, which presented on the topic at its May 11 symposium in Concord.

“In the course of deisgning this initiative, Lisa has engaged other rural practitioners in identifying the many resources already offered by the association to assist startup law firms and has identified new ways to foster community lawyering,” says Jennine McCoy, executive director of the New Hampshire Bar Association.

Wellman-Ally hopes the intiative will result in more and more attorneys discovering the value of community law practice and the benefits of rural living.

“I can’t imagine a better way to live than to be part of a community and to do what we do and to provide benefit and value to the community,” she says. “Being a lawyer, to me, is a privilege. To be able to provide help and guidance to people in need is something I take very seriously. Doing that in your own community is even more important, because people trust you and they know you.”

For more information about applying by July 1 or becoming involved in the NH Rural Lawyer Project, please contact Debbie Hawkins at the NH Bar Center.

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