Inside Track: Attracting Young Lawyers to Rural Practice: Throwing Out the Rule Book:

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    Attracting Young Lawyers to Rural Practice: Throwing Out the Rule Book

    Attracting young lawyers to smaller Wisconsin communities continues to be an uphill struggle. But some cities, such as Wausau, are ramping up the appeal.

    Paige Resch

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    Page Resch

    Paige Resch stands under the umbrella display in downtown Wausau. As a 3L in 2016, Resch participated in the State Bar’s Greater Wisconsin Initiative Bus Tour through Northern Wisconsin, resulting in a move to Wausau to work for Wisconsin Judicare.

    Aug. 21, 2019 – After work, William Baynard is laser-focused on the circular target a few yards away, hoping to earn his team some points, but he’s not playing darts. He and several other young attorneys from the Wausau area are learning to throw axes.

    For their monthly meetings, the Young Lawyers Division (YLD) of the Marathon County Bar Association, led by President Dena Welden, tries to mix things up.

    Their meetings have included new restaurants and distilleries and informal outdoor spots, but their outing at Blades and Boards of Wausau, where individuals and groups can learn to throw hatchets in a safe environment, was definitely a first.  

    “It was way easier than I thought,” Baynard said. “I’ll probably start throwing axes on my camping trips from now on.” (Disclaimer: Blades and Boards is an indoor facility with safety instructions and safety barriers. This author does not encourage amateur axe throwing in the woods and denies any liability if you try it).

    Holding nontraditional bar meetings is one way local bars are attempting to attract young lawyers to rural areas experiencing lawyer shortages.

    This article highlights what some rural communities are doing to attract young professionals, including lawyers, to assist the local individuals and businesses in need of legal help with fewer options as more lawyers retire from practice in those areas.

    William Baynard

    William Baynard tries his hand at axe throwing at a social gathering of Marathon County Bar Association young lawyers. Baynard landed a job in Wausau after a State Bar bus tour in 2016. He is also getting to know the fly fishing areas of northern Wisconsin. “Every other day, I wake up thinking there’s no better place in the world.”

    More Than Just Bars

    Not all of the Marathon County YLD events are lumberjack-themed, but many are definitely meant to expand beyond the traditional downtown scene.

    Paige Reschcom resch_paige63093 yahoo Paige Resch, U.W. 2017, previously worked on family and consumer issues under the Elder Rights Project of Wisconsin Judicare, Wausau. As a 3L in 2016, Resch participated in the State Bar’s Greater Wisconsin Initiative Bus Tour through Northern Wisconsin.

    “I do not prioritize going to new spots in town, and having a YLD event off the beaten path helps me explore new establishments,” says Welden.

    “We are trying to stray from just the typical downtown spots. This summer, I wanted to find more active activities to do, to enjoy the few summer months a little more.”

    In the entertainment space, smaller Wisconsin communities can’t compete with the nightlife in cities like Madison or Milwaukee. But the entertainment is different. You may be more likely to find attorneys meeting up at curling or hunting clubs than at bars.

    “If you like to fish or hunt, or just enjoy the outdoors, this is the place for you,” said Fredrick Fassbender, who also attended Axe Night with the YLD.

    But this may have more to do with more affordable, alternative entertainment options in many communities, and not a lack of traditional establishments.

    In fact, Wausau’s Downtown River District has plenty of traditional options. This district was recently named a “Great American Main Street” by winning an annual contest held by the National Main Street Center.

    This contest was focused solely on the Downtown River District, whose attractions include several restaurants, art fairs, and weekly summer concerts.

    It did not include the more-active attractions to the area like skiing, independent-league baseball, various trails and parks, and even Blades and Boards, which is located south of the main downtown area.

    Related Articles

    In Need of a Rural Family Law Lawyer – and Out of LuckWisconsin Lawyer (forthcoming September 2019)

    Going Rural: Insights from Park Falls to MonroeWisconsin Lawyer (2018)

    Up North: Young Lawyers Find Their Way to WausauInsideTrack (2017)

    The Road to Rural PracticeWisconsin Lawyer (2014)

    Deborah Richter

    Deborah M. Richter, Mitchell Hamline School of Law 2017, opened her own law office in Park Falls. She says, “Once you start helping a few clients in a small town, word spreads. If you are knowledgeable, helpful, honest, and nice, it spreads faster.” Photo: Norman Tesch

    Efforts Throughout Wisconsin

    Unfortunately, attracting young professionals to smaller and rural Wisconsin communities, including young attorneys, continues to be an uphill struggle.

    “I have reached out to Lincoln County and Portage County YLDs to see if we could do more joint events. Unfortunately, both those groups have dissolved due to lack of turnout and membership,” says Welden.

    However, Wausau is just one example of several smaller Wisconsin cities that have ramped up their downtown appeal to current and potential residents.

    Like Wausau, many have garnered recent praise as both professional and social hot-spots by competing in national and statewide competitions promoting downtown developments.

    Recently, Oshkosh, Sheboygan, and Wausau were identified as top-10 metropolitan areas in the country for millennials, based on a study by

    These rankings were based on “unemployment rates, high immigration flows, low housing costs, and low rates of property crime.” Several other Wisconsin cities also made the Top 25 in this study of more than 300 metro areas.

    And Downtown Ripon, offering perks like the original Marcus movie theater with $5 tickets, made the Top 25 in America’s Main Street Contest 2019.

    Further North, Hayward is a repeat-finalist in the contest in part due to its events like the American Birkebeiner cross country ski race. Ashland, the Historic Mural Capital of Wisconsin nestled on the shores of Lake Superior, is also a featured city.

    Back in Wausau, Welden continues to explore new experiences for YLD members. “There is a young professional community in our area and I hope to try and join forces to do some more activities together.”

    The State Bar of Wisconsin’s ongoing Greater Wisconsin Initiative encourages attorneys to consider joining these smaller communities, including dozens of counties not mentioned in this article.

    With revitalization projects, new businesses, and national competitions, it looks like several communities are making their own efforts to entice more professionals to their cities and towns.

    Brandon Evans

    Brandon Evans’ winding career path eventually led him back to Marquette, Mich., not too far from where he grew up. He had practiced for some time in Detroit and later in Green Bay but, as he sees it, practicing in a small city in a rural area has helped him to develop a broader range of legal skills. “A small-town practice has a lot to offer as a way to train a lawyer in the practical things you need to do and to be more confident in what you do,” he says. He’s now a shareholder of a 13-attorney firm, the largest in the Upper Peninsula. Photo: Scott Dupras, The L

    The Greater Wisconsin Initiative: Considering a Rural Practice? Need Advice? Want to Help Fill the Justice Gap?

    The State Bar’s Greater Wisconsin Initiative encourages attorneys to consider practicing in rural communities. In prior years, the initiative sponsored a bus tour that introduced interested members to rural communities directly and networking with local lawyers, judges, and community leaders.

    The State Bar’s commitment to help ensure residents in rural parts of the state have access to justice are stronger than ever. Efforts to serve lawyers transitioning out of practice, and potential lawyers interested in transitioning to rural Wisconsin will soon have access to more resources on the State Bar website, In the meantime, contact the following for assistance:

    • org kburns wisbar Kim Burns for areas in Wisconsin needing attorneys or program suggestions on serving rural parts of the state;

    • Michelle Sherbinow (Ready.Set.Practice. mentoring program) on help for young lawyers looking to expand their professional knowledge and experience;

    • org mspranger wisbar Mary Spranger (WisLAP) for health and wellness support;

    • org cshattuck wisbar Christopher Shattuck (Practice 411) for practice management and technology information;

    • org akaiser wisbar Aviva Kaiser or org tpierce wisbar Tim Pierce (Ethics Program) for help with ethical issues related to starting or transitioning a law firm;

    • org jbrown wisbar Jeff Brown (Pro Bono Program) for opportunities to help fill the justice gap in rural areas, including through Wisconsin Free Legal Answers an online resource in which qualified consumers get answers to civil legal matters;

    • Lawyer-to-Lawyer Directory to access hundreds of lawyers willing to share their career and practice knowledge with other lawyers through free, brief consultations (sign up to be part of this peer network);

    • org kwilcox wisbar Katie Wilcox (Lawyer Referral Programs) for lawyers interested in expanding their client base and Wisconsin residents who are in need of legal help. 

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