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The rural world

With recent law school graduates struggling to find positions in a competitive job market, more students are being encouraged to seek jobs in rural towns.

The Iowa State Bar Association recently teamed up with Drake University, University of Iowa, and Creighton University to develop a summer internship program that will give law students an opportunity to experience law practice in the rural Midwest.

The National Law Journal reports that rural towns in America have large lawyer shortages. As a result, many residents from rural towns are forced to drive to larger cities to receive legal consultation.

“This program is so important because a lot of small and rural communities need more representation,” says Jennifer Zwagerman, director of career development for the Drake University Law School. Zwagerman has been an important part of giving the program a strong start.

Twenty years ago, rural towns had as many as 10 lawyers. Now, some are struggling to cope with only two or three lawyers and many communities have none. As current rural practitioners continue to retire, the need for lawyers in rural towns is greater than ever. The Iowa State Bar Association hopes this program will help grow law students’ interest in starting law practices in rural towns.

Zwagerman says the program’s goal is to highlight the benefits of practicing law in a rural area rather than a city or suburban area; such perks include a more personalized law experience and the ability to make a more immediate impact on families in a smaller community.

When the program was proposed in January, 20 students showed interest almost immediately. While only a few students could be placed in the inaugural year, Drake Law School anticipates more rural law professionals will host student interns each summer.

The Iowa State Bar Association’s rural practice committee heads the program. The new clerkships came together in only a matter of months, but with another year of refinement next year’s opportunities will be even greater. Participating student and practitioner feedback from this year will be taken into account.

“We are hoping to get more rural and small town practitioners involved in the program next year, so we have more opportunities for students,” Zwagerman says. “Right now we have many more interested students than there are opportunities. Ideally, we’ll be able to narrow that gap.”

Taylor Nederhoff
Photo credit: Sarah McCammon, Iowa Public Radio

In its inaugural year, the summer internship program was able to place two second-year Drake law students in rural law firms. Jack Mailander worked in Shenandoah, Iowa, at the G. Rawson Stevens Law Firm, and Taylor Nederhoff spent his summer at Pabst Law Firm in Albia, Iowa.

“I observed court and worked on an insurance claim, a business contract, and an estate,” Mailander says. “I learned how important it is to make sure to look at every little detail in a file. I got a better understanding of how a rural law firm operates on a day-to-day basis and was to be able to take away some skills needed to practice law in the future.”

Nederhoff’s ultimate goal is to practice law in a rural area. He holds his mentor from the summer, John Pabst, in high esteem and says that he has learned much more than he anticipated.

“I feel my legal writing has vastly improved,” Nederhoff says. “I have learned how to craft more direct and effective briefs for judges because they have full dockets and are very busy.”

He also says Pabst gave him many pointers on how to efficiently run a rural firm and showed him areas where new attorneys often make mistakes.

“I would say my ‘grand hope’ was met,” Nederhoff says. “Going into the internship, I had hoped to perfect legal skills and to learn how the legal profession is undertaken in a real-world atmosphere. Both of these hopes have been satisfied through the program.”