OUR VIEW: Rural lawyer bill deserves considerationIf approved, Senate Bill 218 will help pay for a certain number of law students to attend the University of South Dakota. In return, those students will agree to open a practice for a set amount of time in a small town or rural county.
By: Editorial board, The Daily Republic
A plan that’s been floated in the state Legislature could help solve a growing problem in South Dakota — a lack of lawyers in rural counties and towns.
If approved, Senate Bill 218 will help pay for a certain number of law students to attend the University of South Dakota. In return, those students will agree to open a practice for a set amount of time in a small town or rural county.
According to a news report in Wednesday’s Daily Republic, 65 percent of South Dakota’s lawyers work in Minnehaha, Pennington, Brown and Hughes counties. In a state with 66 counties, that leaves quite a void out in the rural, sparsely populated areas that aren’t near Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Aberdeen or Pierre. If SB 218 is approved, counties would pay for 35 percent of the student’s school fees, with the Unified Judicial System paying the other two-thirds from money approved by the Legislature.
As of this week, it appears SB 218 has plenty of support, including South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson, who said he has noticed that many lawyers in rural areas are retiring. He said the declines are significant. Two counties don’t have an attorney, 13 counties have only one attorney and another six have two.
Unless something is done, those numbers probably won’t get any better, and we feel SB 218 is a good step in solving this problem.
Young lawyers likely will take notice, too, since many are graduating with debts of $70,000 or more. Law students will be required to keep their grades up to qualify, and they will sign contracts to keep their roots in small towns for the required number of years. Those who renege would face sanctions.
It’s awful early to expect SB 218 to breeze through the Legislature, although the Senate Judiciary Committee approved it unanimously. We hope lawmakers give this ample consideration, because the time to solve this problem is now — not years from now.