A new fellowship program will try to chip away at a shortage of lawyers in rural communities in Illinois by offering incentives to young attorneys and law students to work in smaller towns.
The Illinois State Bar Association’s Rural Practice Fellowship Program offers two tracks. Soon-to-graduate law students can receive a $5,000 stipend and mentoring if they spend the summer working in a rural community. A separate track for new attorneys who’ve already graduated will offer up to $10,000 if they complete at least a full year in a smaller community.
“If we can come up with the right match, we’ll be able to kill two birds with one stone,” said Dennis Orsey, president of the ISBA. “The expectation was, we could help the older attorney with a succession plan, by identifying a younger lawyer who could eventually come in and take over the practice. And two, we would then provide that new practitioner who’d stay in the rural community and provide a service to the community."
The rural attorney shortage is well-documented. Of Illinois’ 102 counties, there are 13 with five or fewer practicing attorneys, and 30 with 10 or fewer, said Orsey.
"We really look at it as an access-to-justice issue," he said.
Attorneys can find a very rewarding career in a small town, or if they return to their hometown, Orsey said.
“They’re very pleased with the income they’re able to make. They’re also pleased with how they can integrate into the community. There’s some satisfaction in being a hometown attorney and also networking with other service organizations, like Rotary Club, United Way, etc. They’ve found a lot of satisfaction in that,” Orsey said.
“It’s finding the right people that will find that a rural practice is suitable to them, and we really do think there are a lot of people out there,” he added. “We’re trying to offer them some incentives to get them to focus back on a rural community and be able to have a successful law career.”
Applications for both tracks of the fellowship program are due by Feb. 12. The first year is a pilot, Orsey said, that will likely serve between five and 10 fellows between the two tracks.
The program is expected to expand in years two, three and four.
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