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Things continue to look grim for new attorneys -- at least in heavily populated areas. According to stories by The New York Times and NPR, there are areas of rural America where jobs are actually plentiful.
Raw Numbers for Rural Lawyers
Currently, about two percent of attorneys practice in rural America, and about 20 percent of the population lives there.
This indicates that two percent of lawyers in America can serve 20 percent of the population while big city lawyers -- the rest of the 98 percent -- have to serve the 80 percent of the population. That means there are more lawyers fighting for clients in the cities.
There's a clear downside for the rural lawyers that these raw number don't address, however: the types of legal issues to be handled will be far more limited in rural America.
Trade Offs for City vs. Small Town Lawyers
Though it's difficult to gauge the kind of financial hit a lawyer will take by moving to a small town, the other life benefits are pretty obvious. First, a slower pace of life. No one is going to reasonably say that city life is more easy-going than rural life. Your commutes will probably be shorter and less stressful. Also, it's likely you'll be doing real law work, not simply document review at $20 per hour.
But let's face it: most of the very wealthy clients and biggest deals will be found in the city. Still, these sorts of big ticket items and clients usually select the biggest firms. It's unlikely city lawyers will directly benefit from the really high ticket cases unless they're already a partner or an associate on partner track.
But if money isn't the end all goal for your career, you might consider moving to a very small rural town and see if you can't make it there. With a little luck, you might just end up being the only game in town.