Aug. 3, 2016 – It’s a trend that’s become very noticeable: There are fewer and fewer attorneys living and practicing in the north woods of Wisconsin.
“The work is drifting elsewhere because there are no lawyers to see to the legal needs of the community,” says Vilas County Circuit Court Judge Neal Nielsen of Eagle River – on the borders of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Perhaps now is the time to explore options outside the urban centers of the state.
“There’s a great potential to build a happy and successful practice, and a happy life here,” Judge Nielsen said.
The Greater Wisconsin Initiative Bus Tour
“There’s a lot of opportunity here,” says Oneida County Circuit Court Judge Michael Bloom of Rhinelander – in northern Wisconsin, just south of Vilas County.
In his area, there are around 15 actively practicing attorneys now in their 60s. “In the foreseeable future, the number of practicing attorneys is going to go down,” Judge Bloom said.
With many practicing lawyers reaching retirement age, rural areas are becoming more and more underserved in terms of legal services, says Judge Richard Brown, a member of the State Bar’s New Lawyers Challenges Committee.
“So many members of the bar are reaching retirement age and will soon be looking for a way to cease practice,” Judge Brown said.
To encourage lawyers to consider living and practicing in the rural areas of Wisconsin, the New Lawyers Challenges Committee is sponsoring the Greater Wisconsin Initiative Bus Tour, Oct. 7 and 8, 2016.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for lawyers and law students to broaden their horizons,” says Amy Ferguson, co-chair of the New Lawyers Challenges Committee, who runs her practice in rural Rhinelander.
Pictured: Amy Ferguson, a criminal defense lawyer at O’Melia, Schiek & McEldowney S.C. in Rhinelander. Photo: TJ Gaffney Photography
What: The bus tour is a free opportunity for 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 northern Wisconsin.
When: Friday and Saturday, Oct. 7-8, 2016
Where: The bus leaves from the State Bar Center in Madison, and goes to Rhinelander and Marinette. Riding the bus is not mandatory.
Cost: Applicants selected to participate in the tour will be required to provide a $30.00 seat deposit that will be refunded after participation in the tour. Riding on the bus is encouraged but not mandatory. The refundable deposit would still be required.”
Deadline: Sign up by Sept. 9.
For more information and to apply: Visit the tour's website on WisBar.org.
Questions? Contact Kris Wenzel at (608) 250-6185.
About the Tour
The bus tour is a free opportunity for 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 northern Wisconsin. The bus stops in Rhinelander on Oct. 7, and in Marinette on Oct. 8.
“This tour will offer networking opportunities both within the legal community and communities-at-large, and will be a nice trip to some of the more beautiful towns in Wisconsin,” says committee member Chad Schimmelpfenning.
The purpose is to actually see what’s up here, to see the communities, the North Woods,” says Judge Bloom. “Participants will meet some of the attorneys, judges and community leaders, and get a firsthand impression of what is up here.”
Lawyers who set up practice in rural areas “find themselves in rewarding careers and are excited about their practice,” says Schimmelpfenning.
There are many advantages to being a professional in a smaller community, to giving up the hustle and bustle and crowded nature of big-city life, in addition to a congestion-free, picturesque commute.
“Every time I’m coming back from a meeting in Madison and see the traffic, I think how lucky I am that my commute to the courthouse is only 10 minutes,” Judge Nielsen said.
Practicing somewhere in northern Wisconsin has a lot of benefits, says Ferguson. It’s more laid back. There’s less pressure, less competition. “It’s a quieter, slower pace, with the comfortable familiarity of working with the same judges and lawyers all the time.” And it’s a beautiful and peaceful place to live and to raise a family.
The rural areas have close-knit collegiality, says Judge Bloom. “You get a chance to know who you’re working with.”
A judge since 2004, Judge Nielsen grew up in Vilas County, and moved back after law school. “It was enormously satisfying to be part of the fabric of the community, to build a successful life, financially and otherwise. It’s a great place to raise children, with a great environment and great schools.”
Those practicing in rural areas can quickly make an impact on their communities. “Whether it’s advocating for change or providing services to the less fortunate, rural practice puts those attorneys in an immediate position to lead,” says Schimmelpfenning. “Small communities can be close knit, changes can happen rapidly, and those changes can be infectious to surrounding communities.”
You can make a significant difference much more quickly, says Judge Nielsen. “If you’re willing to dig into a community, get to know neighbors, get involved in civic organizations, you can quickly become a community leader.”
Interested in Becoming a Community Leader?
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Plenty to Do
Lawyers working in less-populated areas can find themselves quickly taking on cases they might not otherwise be exposed to in larger cities. The types of practice and cases are much the same as in urban areas.
“There’s opportunities to get your foot in the game,” says Judge Bloom. “It’s easier to become immersed in any part of the legal profession. There’s plenty to do in northern Wisconsin for someone who’s willing to give it a go.”