Rural Attorney Recruitment Program
The Unified Judicial System and the State Bar of South Dakota are committed to ensuring that all citizens within the State of South Dakota have
access to quality attorneys. In 2013, the South Dakota Legislature approved the Recruitment Assistance Pilot Program to address the current and
projected shortage of lawyers practicing in small communities and rural areas of South Dakota.
This program provides qualifying attorneys an incentive payment in return for five (5) continuous years of practice in an eligible rural county.
No more than sixteen (16) attorneys may participate in the program and no attorney may be added to the program after July 1, 2017. In 2015, the
program was extended to add an additional sixteen (16) attorneys to the program. Thus, no more than a total of 32 attorneys may participate in
the program and no attorney may be added to the program after July 1, 2022.
Attorneys must enter into a contract with the Unified Judicial System, the State Bar and the eligible County in order to participate. Qualifying
attorneys within the program will receive an inventive payment, payable in five equal annual installments, each payment equal to 90% of one year's
resident tuition and fees at the University of South Dakota School of Law, as determined on July 1, 2013.
Where we started
In 2013, in response to an aging and dwindling lawyer population about rural South Dakota counties, South Dakota would become the first state in
the country to pass legislation to invest in rural lawyers. At the time South Dakota had: 8 counties without a single attorney, 19 counties with
only 1-3 attorneys, and 13 counties with just 4-6 attorneys. The legislation would establish what is not called the Rural Attorney Recruitment
Program. The Program seeks to assist rural counties in South Dakota that need access to local attorneys and to assist an attorney in locating in
that county. South Dakota recognized that the presence of a lawyer in small town and communities could help to revitalize those communities for
generations to come.
How far we have come
May 7, 2014, was a monumental day for the program. On that day Jake Fisher became the first attorney, not only in South Dakota, but in the nation,
to enroll in such a program by opening a law office in Corsica. This came about through the cooperation of Corsica's Development Corporation and
the Douglas County Commissioners. Jake was raised on a farm near Corsica but had gone to law school in Minnesota and practiced law in the
Minneapolis area. The bill you passed allowed him to "come home" with his family and set up a law practice for his friends and neighbors in
the Corsica area.
To date, six counties have taken advantage of the program and now enjoy the benefits of the program. They are Douglas, Lyman, Hand, Haakon,
Tripp, and Perkins counties. Eight attorneys are involved. Four are men; four are women. Other counties have shown interest and we are
attempting to match each geographical area with a law student at the University of South Dakota School of Law or elsewhere. A few months ago,
my staff and I met with 21 first and second year law students. They all had an interest in a rural law practice and their geographical
interests covered virtually every portion of South Dakota.