In 2014, the Law Society of New South Wales reported that 12.5% of solicitors were practicing in a rural or regional area, compared with 53.6% of solicitors practicing in a capital city and 30.6% practicing in a wider suburban area.1 For many law students and recent graduates, rural, regional and remote (RRR) legal practice is rarely considered as a career option.
Top-tier firms recruit students and young lawyers with their shiny promotional pens, big salaries and the promise of a successful city career. Unfortunately, many rural firms are simply not in a position to compete – they lack sufficient access, time and resources to appeal to the bright young graduates from metropolitan universities.
I grew up on a farm in the country – not exactly on the back blocks of Bourke, but still rural enough that I knew all of my neighbours and attended a primary school with eleven kids in my Year 6 class. My childhood was filled with normal activities such as swim squad, Saturday morning netball, and sleepovers at friends houses, the only difference being we were 45-minutes out of town and spent a great deal of time driving back and forth in the car.
At various times during my university degree, I toyed with the idea of a career in the city and applied for clerkships, graduate programs and associateships. In the end, however, I found myself yearning for the wide-open spaces and clean air of Gods Country. In my final year, I began cold-calling law firms in country centres such as Albury, Orange, Bathurst, and Dubbo. Barely a month after making initial enquiries, I was offered graduate employment at a commercial firm in Dubbo – well and truly before many of my peers had even begun looking for graduate roles.
Reflections on a Year in Rural Practice
Now, twelve months on from the start of my career as a “country solicitor”, I find myself reflecting on my first year in practice and the wealth of opportunities I have experienced in such a short amount of time.
It is understandable that many law students and recent graduates would be reluctant to pursue a legal career in the country as a vast majority would have grown up in urban cities and possess very little, if any, understanding of life in a rural town, or would believe that rural legal practice does not offer the career advancement opportunities of larger metropolitan firms.
Thanks to a small firm and a supportive principal solicitor, I have been exposed to a wide range of matters in a relatively short space of time. One day, I find myself advising on a multi-million dollar purchase of prime agricultural land, and the next, drafting submissions for a prosecution by NSW Office of Water for offences under the Water Management Act.
I have also been actively involved in the firm’s business planning, recruitment, and technological developments. As many regional firms will soon experience an exodus of older practitioners, there is an opening for young solicitors to take on a proprietary role much sooner than they would in metropolitan firms.
Rural towns – or ‘evocities’ as they are sometimes referred to – offer a relaxed, friendly lifestyle with an affordable cost of living, improved air quality and a shorter daily commute.
For lovers of the great outdoors, the Warrumbungle National Park, Wellington Caves and Burrendong Dam are all within 2 hours of Dubbo, not to mention the free-flowing Macquarie River situated right at our doorstep. There are wonderful cafes, restaurants, traditional country pubs, movie theatres, bowling, galleries, shopping centres and local producers’ markets. The thriving food and wine regions of Orange and Mudgee are a mere 90-minute drive, and if you fancy a quick weekend getaway, Qantas, Rex and Jet Go offer daily flights to Sydney and Brisbane.
Rural practice will not be for everyone, and there are certain limitations that arise purely out of the fact that you are not within walking distance of the Supreme Court. However, if you fancy a diverse practice, cheaper rent and the idea of being able to drive home and hang out washing on your lunchbreak, I urge you to seriously consider a ‘sea change’ to a regional area. Country practitioners often become well-respected members of their local community, and interesting and challenging work is most certainly available.
And, you never know – you may discover that you love the wide-open spaces and clean air of God’s Country as much as the locals do.
1Urbis on behalf of The Law Society of New South Wales, ‘2014 Law Society National Profile’ (Final Report, The Law Society of New South Wales, April 2015) iii, <http://www.lawsociety.com.au/cs/groups/public/documents/internetcontent/1005660.pdf>.
This guest post article was written by Jessica Dawson. Jessica graduated from the University of Wollongong in 2014 with a double degree in Law and Commerce, and is now working for a commercial law firm in Dubbo, New South Wales. You can connect with her on LinkedIn. If you are interested in contributing a blog piece, get in touch with us.