For the past few years, I have had the freedom to set my own schedule, work 9–5, and almost always have the weekends available to escape and spend time with my friends and family. To whom did I sell my soul to pull that off? The truth is far less interesting than you might expect. I simply opted to practice in a small town rather than a big city, an option that many new law school graduates often overlook.
I will be honest—living and working in a small town will not appeal to everyone and often involves tradeoffs that some are not willing to take. The jobs tend to have lower salaries, there are fewer areas of law in demand, and you miss out on big-city amenities. What you gain, however, is the ability to forge your own path, a lower cost of living, a better work-life balance, and a closer-knit community of professionals. If you are willing to put in the work and research into the community, you could be lucky enough (as I have been) to end up in a small town with a bustling legal community, art and culture aplenty, and endless opportunities for growth and development. If you are considering making the leap to small-town practice, here are some tips to help you along the way—from finding the job to thriving in that community.
Do Your Research
Spend the time to research carefully the legal market within the community that you are targeting and be realistic about the practice areas that will be in demand. Finding and applying for jobs in a smaller community may require more leg work. Research the different firms and companies in that geographic area to get a sense of the community’s needs. Look at their websites, LinkedIn, and Facebook pages. Keep in mind that small-town firms and businesses will not generally spend valuable resources working with recruiters, headhunters, or advertising firms to fill their available positions.
If you find a firm or company that interests you, do not be afraid to initiate contact. For example, send an email to introduce yourself and express your interest in the company. The worst things that can happen are receiving a polite “no” or hearing nothing at all. Additionally, if you happen to be near the community, remember this: face time matters. Invite people to coffee or offer to visit their office to have a conversation with them. Ultimately, they will want to get to know you because small-town businesses usually have smaller teams, which means every individual added can have a big impact on the workplace.
Attend Local Bar Events and Volunteer
Once you land in your target community, attend events hosted by the local bar association and volunteer at the courthouse. If you are in a community with a local Business Network International chapter (or a similar professional organization), take advantage of them to meet other professionals working in the community. As with any place, your reputation is everything, but nowhere is this more evident than in a small town. Word of mouth can make or break you, and in a small town, word gets around quickly.
Finally, be willing to be more self-reliant. If you are coming from a big city firm, you will have fewer colleagues. If you want a mentor, you will have to seek one out yourself. Target other professionals whom you respect and forge relationships with them. You will be surprised by how welcoming people are.
Small-town practice comes with its own unique challenges; however, the possibilities are endless. Take the time to research carefully the small-town community of your choice and the payoff can be greater than the effort.