The starting point for your research into high needs rural communities. Learn more about each community here.
Your introduction to rural firms that are looking to pass on their practice in a few years’ time. Find out what they are about.
Learning resources for substantive areas of law that you will be practicing in a rural community.
Soft skills modules that will help you successfully transition into a rural practice.
Like many other big transitions in life, adjusting to a rural life-style could be difficult at first, but rewarding on the long run. Small towns are closely knit communities. This proximity between social layers makes for more instances of interaction and harmony. As one author put it, even the most “eccentric” of personalities could find acceptance, so long as they conform to a wider set of mores shared by the rest of the group.
Small towns offer a variety of perks that are unique to each community. They value commitment and strong ethics. People in small towns want to know their neighbors and get a sense of what they stand for. This is in contrast with the detached life-style in urban centers where people often run into one another through pre-planning the occasion.
As a rural lawyer, you should take the following steps in order to integrate yourself in your chosen community:
Consider every generic conversation as an opportunity to get to know others and vice-versa. Leave your comfort zone; be genuinely interested in the conversation and demonstrate your active listening skills. Invite over your neighbors and get to know their acquaintances. The more you socialize, the more likely you are to find out about the challenges that are facing the community. This will help both in practice management and integration.
Go out for a walk and explore the community. Better yet, ask someone to accompany you for a picnic. Learn about the region and stop by key landmarks. Greet other strangers on the way and don’t be shy to strike a conversation. Ask other residents for their preferred picnic locations.
One way to demonstrate interest in the community is to volunteer for charitable events. Pick a cause that is important to you and set some time to give back to the community. There is no better way to network with other like-minded people than volunteering. Making new friends helps to facilitate adjustment to the country life-style. New friends could also serve as go-to sources for advice.
As the latest business in town, it is imperative for you to develop ties with the local business community. Shop with the local businesses and build rapport with their managers. Reputation is key to success, and even more so in a small community. You do not want to be called a “cheapskate” or be perceived as someone that does not appreciate the local merchandise. Chances are that the local carpenter offers more competitive prices than the large wholesaler located outside of the town.
Remember that people in rural areas value strong ethics and chastise poor social etiquette. Other residents are not mere a statistic. They are your neighbors, store clerks, family doctors, nurses, friends and potential clients. Consider this fact and act accordingly.
1. Cameron, M. Bruce. “Becoming a Rural Lawyer: A Personal Guide to Establishing a Small Town Practice” Lawyer Avenue Press, 2013.
2. Randall, Lowell & Clews, Rosemary. “The Tale That Binds: A Narrative Model For Living and Helping in Rural Communities”
3.Urban Professionals Learn to Adjust to Rural Communities, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, April 21, 2015.
WikiHOW: Living in a Rural Communty
Modern marketing is a highly data driven affair. Companies hire agencies to conduct quantitative studies that would identify potential customers and niche areas of the market. The “traditional” approach to marketing is a resource driven exercise. It enables “main street law firms” to adopt some of the techniques of major wholesale retailers. This includes advertising budgets and aggressive brand building.
In a rural setting, the dynamics of traditional modern marketing are reversed. Marketing in rural areas is highly dependent on reputation (“word of mouth”) and client feedback (i.e. qualitative factors). For a rural practioner to make headway in such a setting there are three key strategies that they may need to consider:
Start your marketing strategy with a solid plan and remain loyal to it. Seek out your future clientele directly, and target ideal locations where they would be present.
If your plan is to practice wills and estates then make sure to visit the local senior center on a steady basis. Organize free seminars on Estate Planning and always leave your contact information behind. Build rapport with the local clergy, church and hospital; sign up for a rotary club membership. If there is a charity drive, make sure you are there.
Consider every professional interaction as a potential marketing opportunity. Target your client and referral sources on a regular basis. Be consistent. Make sure to follow up with each inquiry. Studies show that nearly seventy percent of future business is lost due to a lack of follow up. As one rural lawyer put it “you are only one call away from a great month”.
Set monthly goals on how to achieve all of this. A rural lawyer’s primary focus is becoming a “fixture” in the town – ensuring that clients know where to look for when they need assistance. Positive name recognition and reputation building are key in making that happen.
Like many other decisions in business, marketing carries with it an inherent cost-benefit logic. This is truer for a solo practice seeking to thrive, because it has to be conscious of its overhead costs. Poor marketing choices could potentially sink a rural practice before it has the opportunity to develop a client base.
This entails making a number of tactical decisions. Do you build a website first or do you begin investing in business cards? How about taking an ad in the telephone directory?
When making these decisions, it is important to consider the value each choice could bring to your business. Perhaps an aggressive ad buy campaign will not have the same immediate effect as leaving your professionally tailored business card with your neighbor? It’s important to start small and gauge each choice based on its immediate impact on the business.
Selecting the appropriate medium to advertise is central to the question of client development. For instance, even though Internet penetration rates are well above 90% in Canada, rural clients may not be savvy Facebook and twitter users.
The general rule of thumb with online advertising is that if it’s free, you should consider it, and if it is not, then it may not be a good return on investment. Recall that quantitative advertising methods are most effective in large urban settings, where consumer behavior varies from that of rural regions.
Nonetheless, studies have shown that purchasing ads in the local newspaper could in fact serve as an effective marketing tool. This is because rural clients rely on the daily newspaper to check weather reports and ICE Futures (Agricultural Futures Exchange). In many communities, the price of crops and livestock defines the nature of their economy. This makes advertising in the local paper a desirable method for client development.
A rural lawyer’s best approach to marketing is to perform great work at reasonable prices. Think of the additional time in every file as an investment into future business. Reduce unnecessary overhead in order to remain competitive at lower prices.
Marketing agencies refer to this as “non-linear” advertising. Whereas traditional advertising has a beginning and en end, non-linear advertising is an incentive-based approach to client development.
The goal is to foster future business by rising above basic expectations. Clients, which leave the office feeling content, tend to be more likely to come back and make future referrals.
In sum, business practioners that intend to build a long-term/prospering business should be cognizant of the above strategies. They should seek to incorporate some these ideas into their marketing techniques. The rising level of demand for rural legal services suggests that businesses which survive today, are the most well suited to reap the benefits tomorrow.
The first step to transitioning into a rural practice from the big city is to establish the contacts and a network that can support you in your practice. If you can find a rural lawyer that is looking to retire or cut back hours in the next few years, then you could discuss the opportunity of transitioning the practice over. Having an already established practice to take over can make the transition into a rural practice much more smoother than starting from scratch.
The following are some tips for building your rural network contacts and approaching rural firms about passing on their practice.
To be successful in a rural practice, the lawyer must be able to connect with the residents in the community. Existing practitioners in rural areas are disinterested in passing on their practice to non-serious inquirers. To demonstrate your sincerity, call the rural lawyer you want to connect with and where possible, follow up with a coffee meeting to discuss opportunities.
Show a willingness to get directly involved in the activities of the residents of the rural community. Rural practitioners constantly emphasize the need to get involved in the community life in order to attract and retain clients. It is not a place where you can come and leave on a whim and be able to experience instant success. You need to invest time and effort into establishing your reputation in the community as someone the residents can get to know and trust with their important legal affairs. Ask the rural practitioner what kinds of community groups they belong to and how they personally get involved in the community. Try to get a local’s sense of what that community is about.The only way for a lawyer to survive in a small community is with repeat clients and referrals. So, the rural lawyer needs to offer the best service and develop a strong rapport with its clients.When it comes to sponsoring local community events and initiatives. Lawyers need to show up in person at events their firms sponsor (ex: rodeos, BBQs, sports tournaments…). Therefore, they can’t just send money and not show up…nor should they show up if they declined to sponsor the community event.
A successful rural practitioner often has more work coming to them than they can take on. Much like the partners in large urban firms, they don’t have much time to train. You need to be able to demonstrate that you can successfully transition into a rural practice without extensive direction/guidance. Show that you have the requisite interpersonal skills to integrate yourself into the community. Do your research on what it takes to get involved in the community by asking the right questions. Demonstrate to the rural practitioner that you are confident in your ability to hit the ground running. Catch up on your substantive law knowledge relevant to the particular rural practice by accessing the resources highlighted in the rural firm’s profile (or access all of them here).