New Scholarship Program Aims to Put New Lawyers in Rural Practice

The University of St. Thomas School of Law is launching a new scholarship program focused on getting new lawyers into practice in rural America.

The Access to Justice Scholars program is a $75,000 scholarship program for individuals who have an interest in and commitment to pursuing legal practice in a small-town or rural setting. Through the program, UST School of Law – home of the nation’s top-ranked Mentor Externship program – will work with the Minnesota State Bar Association to match Access to Justice scholars with a mentor experienced in small-town or rural practice.

The program’s launch is driven by the reality that an estimated 20 percent of U.S. residents live in rural areas, but only 2 percent of law practices operate out of those small town regions, according to the National Association of Counties. The shortage of attorneys in rural areas of Iowa, Nebraska, and the Dakotas is well known, and Minnesota may not be far behind.

“As I tour the state listening to attorneys, there is a real concern that new law school graduates are choosing big cities over small-town practice,” MSBA Executive Director Tim Groshens said. “If we don’t encourage the next generation of attorneys to build practices in these communities, the coming shortage of attorneys threatens access to justice in these areas. The new scholarship program from St. Thomas is a significant step in the right direction.”

Last fall, Rochester-based attorney and blogger Bruce Cameron told Minnesota Lawyer that a third of Minnesota small-town attorneys are within five years of retirement, and another third are mid-career and starting to look at succession planning.

“We want to be part of the solution, and we believe that one way to encourage more attorneys to choose small-town or rural practice settings is to encourage more small-town and rural residents to choose law school,” said Robert Vischer, dean of UST School of Law. “This scholarship program is designed to do that.”

All academically qualified applicants are invited to submit an essay explaining their interest in, and commitment to, pursuing legal practice in a small-town or rural setting. More information is available online here.