Thanks to help from the State Bar of Wisconsin Greater Wisconsin Initiative Bus Tour, Patrick Scharmer found a position with a firm in Nekoosa.
July 18, 2018 – Last fall, Patrick Scharmer joined the State Bar of Wisconsin Greater Wisconsin Initiative Bus Tour looking for an opportunity.
Thanks to help from the tour, he found a position with a firm in Nekoosa.
“I was looking for a small community to start a solo practice,” he said. “But I wasn’t sure where.”
Each fall, the Greater Wisconsin Initiative Bus Tour takes lawyers into the rural and small-town areas of Wisconsin. It is a free opportunity for new lawyers and 3L law students – and their spouses or significant others – to connect with local judges, attorneys, and community and business leaders, and to learn more about life and practice in western Wisconsin.
Making Connections, Learning about the Communities
The 2017 tour visited the counties of Barron, Ashland, and Bayfield, giving Scharmer the opportunity to learn about the communities and meet local community members.
“I made so many connections during the trip,” Scharmer said. “The tour was both highly informative and a lot of fun, too.”
The tour allowed him to see how much interest there was from both the legal and non-legal community in attracting lawyers to the area.
And he learned two important things: “That if I decided to start my own firm, there were a lot of people in the community willing to help me succeed,” Scharmer said.
And the second thing: “There were a lot of firms that were interested in having a lawyer join their growing firms.”
And that made the transition much easier.
Finding a Good Fit
Scharmer grew up in Stevens Point, and he’s lived and worked in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Madison. “I love the smaller communities,” he said.
The benefits are many. It’s easy to get around, and parking is a nonissue. “The only congestion I encounter on my commute is having to slow down because turkeys are crossing the road,” he said. “And the proximity to natural areas and outdoor activities is fantastic.”
There’s quick access to the outdoor activities, including fishing, hiking, boating, swimming, and snow mobiling. “There’s always something to do,” he said.
And that includes shopping and dining.
“Even in a smaller community, there are a lot of amenities available for shopping, dining, sports, entertainment,” he said. Plus, the schools have “a lot of opportunities for the kids.”
Sign Up for the 2018 Fall Tour, Oct. 5-6, 2018 – Deadline is Aug. 31
The 2018 tour takes place Friday and Saturday, Oct. 5-6, and visits the counties of Crawford, Grant, Buffalo, Jackson, Pepin, and Trempealeau.
The tour includes:
- Round trip bus transportation from Madison;
- Informational meet-and-greets with local judges, attorneys, and other business professionals;
- Lunch in Potosi on Friday, and pizza with locals in Pepin on Saturday;
- Dinner reception with community leaders, attorneys, and judges in Black River Falls
- Overnight stay in Black River Falls
- Tours of the courthouses in Lancaster and Prairie du Chien; and
- Plenty of time to network.
Participants are encouraged to bring their spouses or partners along on the tour.
To find out more and to sign up, visit the tour’s website on WisBar.org or complete the application by Aug. 31, 2018.
Help with Making Your Decision
Moving to a new area is a big decision. “Spend time in the communities you are considering, and bring along your spouse and kids,” Scharmer advises.
Connect with community members, explore the area, check out the businesses, visit the stores and restaurants, he says.
He also reached out to local attorneys, and business and community leaders. “I received such a warm welcome,” he said.
He also read the American Bar Association book “Practicing Law in Small Town America,” stayed active in the State Bar’s Solo/Small Firm & General Practice Section, and attended a State Bar CLE seminar on starting a new practice. “All of these resources were very helpful,” Scharmer said.
Where Can I Learn More About Rural Practice?
Take the State Bar of Wisconsin Greater Wisconsin Initiative Bus Tour, Oct. 5-6, 2018. Read more about it above, and visit the tour’s webpage on WisBar.org.
Practicing in a small city or rural area requires a broad range of legal skills, such as estate planning, business law, and agriculture law. A good resource is the State Bar’s sections, including the Solo/Small Firm & General Practice, Elder Law, Family Law, Health Law, and Real Property, Probate and Trust Law sections.
Read the Solo/Small Firm Section’s Agricultural Law and Rural Practice Blog. Started in 2017, this blog assists attorneys with clients who are farmers, work in the agricultural industry, or live in rural areas. Topics include succession planning for farm families, tax credits, and agricultural lien laws.
Get acquainted with the local bar associations in your area. See the list on WisBar.org.
Specialty bar associations are also a great resources. Here’s the list on WisBar.org.
Here’s a perspective on the effect of a lack of lawyers and the crisis of opioid addiction in the Jan. 18, 2018, issue of Isthmus: “Where the Lawyers Aren’t”.
What Else Should I Know?
The State Bar offers law office management assistance to members, through its Practice411TM program. The program is geared to assist all State Bar members, but can be of particular interest to solo and small-firm practitioners who may not have the time or resources to acquire practice management information or best practices elsewhere.
The National Center for State Courts offers a Rural Courts Resource Guide, with links to a handful of useful online resources.
The American Bar Association’s Rural Support Programs website provides links to state bar association programs, law schools programs, and court programs related to providing access to legal services in rural areas.
Take a look at “The Road to Rural Practice,” in the October 2014 issue of Wisconsin Lawyer magazine, where seven lawyers talk about their experience in moving to a rural practice.
What’s it like to practice in a rural area? Amanda Bergman gives some insight in this August 2016 InsideTrack article.
Minnesota lawyer Bruce Cameron puts his perspectives into his 2013 book, “Becoming a Rural Lawyer: A Personal Guide to Establishing a Small-Town Practice.” See also his blog, Rural Lawyer, where he discusses rural practice, small town life, and solo practice.
Read the perspective of an Alabama lawyer on the website for the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division.
Thanks go to Beth Bland, digital law librarian at vonBriesen and Roper in Milwaukee and member of the Law Librarians of Wisconsin (LLAW), for her contributions to this resource list.