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Corsica, Fischer start Rural Attorney Recruitment Program

Rosalie Fischer, 1, shows her excitement during an open house at the Corsica branch of Swier Law Firm Wednesday morning. Her parents, Jake and Robin, stand behind her. Jake Fischer is the new attorney at the Corsica office and the first to take part in South Dakota's Rural Attorney Recruitment Program. (Anna Jauhola/Republic)1 / 3
Jake Fischer, with his wife, Robin, and daughter, Rosalie, stand outside the Corsica branch of Swier Law Firm Wednesday morning. Fischer is the new attorney in Corsica, the first to take part in South Dakota's Rural Attorney Recruitment program. (Anna Jauhola/Republic) 2 / 3
South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson, far right, waits to speak during an open house for the opening of Swier Law Firm's Corsica branch, which is the first to take part in the Rural Attorney Recruitment Program. Also pictured from left are First Circuit Judge Bruce Anderson, Sen. Bill VanGerpen, R-Tyndall, and Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell. (Anna Jauhola/Republic)3 / 3

CORSICA -- Tears of pride welled in Peggy Fischer's eyes Wednesday when she realized her son would likely be recognized in the history books.

Jake Fischer, now an attorney based in Corsica, is the first person in the state to participate in South Dakota's Rural Attorney Recruitment Program. The program -- approved by the South Dakota Legislature in 2013 -- is meant to bring young attorneys to rural South Dakota. There is no other program like it in the nation.

Fischer jumped at the chance, he said, to move back to his home area.

"I'm excited," he told a crowd of professionals and residents during an open house at his new office Wednesday in Corsica. "I grew up between here and Parkston on a farm. This program gave me the opportunity to come home."

Swier Law Firm in Avon recruited Fischer last year as a part of its continuing expansion. Fischer's office in Corsica is a branch of the Swier Law Firm. Scott Swier calls Fischer the "poster boy" for the Rural Attorney Recruitment Program. Fischer attended law school at the University of Minnesota and did legal and policy work in Minneapolis for about four years until he was offered a job with Swier Law Firm.

Fischer, his wife, Robin, and their 1-year-old daughter, Rosalie, moved to the area in August. They moved back to the area for a slower pace, he said.

Fischer said the day-to-day challenges and opportunities of practicing law in a rural area are really what drew him to the profession.

"I was jealous of folks who worked in communities doing ground-level work," he said in an interview with The Daily Republic last week.

He said the best way for him to make a difference is to be "entrenched in a small, rural community" and to also volunteer on committees and local boards.

As a part of the recruitment program, Swier Law set up the satellite office in Corsica with help from the Corsica Development Corporation. Renovations of the new law office -- a former grocery store on Corsica's Main Street -- are nearly complete. The office will open in the next couple of weeks. The contractors refurbished the original hardwood flooring, Fischer said, and installed a tall copper-colored tin ceiling to emulate the original.

The Corsica Development Corporation gave $9,975 in capital improvements and $5,916 in office space rent, leaving about $6,000 to be contributed by Douglas County. In November, the county commissioners agreed to pay $500 per year toward the program. Fischer said a private donor agreed to pay the extra $3,500 the county needs to pay.

"I'm really impressed that Douglas County stepped up for us," Fischer said.

Douglas County Commissioner Sue Denning attended Wednesday's event in Corsica and said it's wonderful to see so many young people moving back.

"It's a wonderful opportunity," she said in an interview with The Daily Republic.

She said Fischer is now filling a need residents once had to drive out of town to fulfill.

The Rural Attorney Recruitment Program was killed on the Senate floor twice before being resurrected in 2013, with help from Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell. Vehle and S.D. Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson pushed for the program, modeling it after programs used to entice young medical professionals back to rural areas.

"It does no good to pass a law if no one takes advantage of it," Vehle said Wednesday. "This is extremely important to the area."

Gilbertson attended the event Wednesday and was excited about the turnout and the launch of the program. The chief justice began his career with a law practice in Sisseton. When he became chief justice in 2001, he drove to every courthouse in South Dakota and realized too many small towns were losing attorneys.

"This is a great day," Gilbertson said Wednesday. "This is a huge day. This town and this county are not only the first in South Dakota, but the first in the country to use this program."

He congratulated Swier Law, Douglas County, Corsica Development Corporation and other leaders for having the drive to make the program happen.

"You're a national guinea pig," Gilbertson said to Fischer, to laughter from the crowd. "I wish you well and know you'll be a great success."

Since he has returned to the area, Fischer has worked out of Avon and in Winner. He's signed up to be a court-appointed attorney so he can work some public defense criminal cases. He's also dealt with some business law in land sales and disputes, business transitions and estate planning.