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Should Rural Lawyers Rethink Their Billing Strategies?

If you didn't know, they do things differently in Small Town, U.S.A.

Not that every rural community has only one sheriff or three billboards. But you probably won't find a lawyer in places like Zzyxx, California.

That could be a good thing if you want a territory all to yourself. It just means you'll have to practice law a little differently, including how you charge for legal services.

Lawyer Shortage

In some parts of the country, rural communities are practically begging for lawyers to set up shop. Actually, it's better than that -- some towns are paying them to come.

South Dakota, for example, offered a $12,000 annual subsidy in exchange for a five-year commitment to start a full-time practice in a county with less than 10,000 residents. It's not a lot of money, but you can buy a car for less than the price of a cow there.

There's the rib rub, however. You can't bill like a big city lawyer in small town. Court-appointed cases in Wisconsin, for example, reportedly were paying $40 an hour.

So how do lawyers make a real living in those parts? According to reports, one law firm has figured it out.

"A La Carte"

Amy Skogerson, who runs a firm in Van Meter, Iowa, charges flat fees for limited services. That's "a la carte" to you city slickers.

It's also called unbundled services, which gives clients a menu of specific services. It's been around for decades, and apparently appeals to the DIY-client.

Forrest Mosten, a California attorney, introduced the concept to Skogerson to take to Van Meter -- population 1,133. The lawyers say it's "working well."

"Because many of those areas are under-lawyered, and there aren't as many choices, and people are often self-reliant," Mosten said.

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