The State Bar’s Greater Wisconsin Initiative encourages attorneys to consider practicing in Greater Wisconsin. We’re here to help you learn if rural practice is right for you and provide you with the resources you need to get started.
Wisconsin's rural population tops 1.6 million.1 With many lawyers approaching retirement age, more and more nonurban communities are at risk of losing access to legal services. Why? As attorneys retire, there aren’t always younger lawyers around to take their place.
Some areas of Wisconsin are already experiencing the consequences of lawyer shortages. More than 60 percent of Wisconsin lawyers are located in the state’s three urban counties. On the other hand, a number of nonurban counties have fewer than 10 lawyers each. Many more counties have fewer than 20 lawyers.
What happens when a rural area no longer has a lawyer? Vital legal needs go unmet and access to justice is jeopardized. What does this mean for you as a new lawyer? Opportunities abound all over Wisconsin to establish your practice!
Who should practice in Greater Wisconsin?
Attorneys with children
Lawyers who are advanced in their careers
For Further Reading
Going Rural: Insigts from Park Falls to Monroe
Hanging a shingle in one of Wisconsin’s less populous counties offers all the practice-area variety of big-city lawyering plus the advantages of small-town life.
Past President's Message
Now Playing in Your Neighborhood: State Bar Outreach and Services
The Road to Rural Practice
For some lawyers, the road to a satisfying and successful law practice runs between farm fields, through forests and sand flats, over hills and around bends to the smaller towns and villages that dot Wisconsin’s countryside.
Five Reasons to Consider Greater Wisconsin
- The Fast Track to Experience: People and businesses in Greater Wisconsin have the same legal needs as those in larger cities. Typically, in nonurban areas, there is a small number of lawyers serving entire communities, which means you have the opportunity to address a wide variety of legal issues – criminal defense, business start-up, contracts, you name it. As a result, you may develop a broad range of skills and get more real-world experience, like more courtroom time, early in your career.
- Mentoring Opportunities: Find rewarding mentoring experiences as you work closely with existing lawyers in the area or an attorney you may one day take over for.
- Scenic and Exciting Amenities: Parks, lakes, trails, and other outdoor attractions make the perfect backdrop for hiking, biking, fishing, or watersports. Escape a hectic day at the office and recharge in the quiet, peaceful settings of lakes and forested hills.
If you like eating local and knowing where your food comes from, you’ll feel right at home among farmer’s markets and restaurants sourcing locally-produced ingredients.
Antique stores, area artists, and microbreweries are just a few examples of the kinds of unique shopping you can find along a town’s main street. Local stores give you more personalized service and your purchases have a higher local economic impact. For every $100 spent at a local business, $68 remains in the area compared with only $43 of each $100 spent at a large chain retailer.2
Chances for Community Involvement: Whether you’re interested in local history or have a desire to help area youth, small towns depend on dedicated volunteers to help meet the needs of the community. Getting involved in a local group helps you contribute to your community, develop leadership skills, gain visibility in the area, and make new friends. Your neighbors and clients will may be members of the same organizations, giving you the chance to truly get to know them.
Commutes: Just because small towns might be farther apart doesn’t mean drive times are longer – they may just be more scenic. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, commutes in urban areas of Wisconsin are roughly equal to or even longer than nonurban commutes.
What lawyers in smaller communities are saying:
"The time is ripe for new lawyers to consider taking over or starting a practice in rural areas. As small towns in rural areas lose their attorneys to retirement, there aren't always younger lawyers around to take their place. What happens when a rural area no longer has a lawyer? Vital legal needs go unmet." - Honorable James Morrison, Marinette County Circuit Court Judge
"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." - Vilas County Circuit Court Judge Neal Nielsen of Eagle River
"Even in the most remote areas of Wisconsin, the lawyers don't feel isolated." - Judge Richard Brown, a member of the State Bar's New Lawyers Challenges Committee
1 According to 2010 U.S. census.