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South Dakota Seeing a Shortage of Lawyers

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PIERRE – Some people might not believe that such a thing is even possible, but rural South Dakota is experiencing a lawyer shortage. Since 65% of the state’s lawyers reside in four urban counties, there are large swaths of the state where there are not enough lawyers in convenient driving distance to meet the needs of the population.

To combat this, South Dakota now has a policy that pays ninety of the in-state tuition for law school at USD, currently a little above $19,000, over five years for lawyers who agree to practice in the state’s rural counties. This would amount to about $3900 a year, which is nothing to sneeze at, but is pretty unlikely to do the job that proponents of the law thought it would do.

Right now, attorneys in South Dakota make about 22% less than the national average of salaries in their field. Combine this with the fact that the graduates of private law schools finish up with an average debt of around $125,000, and you begin to see some of the reason why lawyers are not flocking to rural areas, where they make even less.

There is an old joke that asks what you call 500 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean. Rural South Dakota could use those 500 lawyers right about now. Anything is better than nothing, but what do you call an insufficient amount of relocation incentive funds?

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