North Dakota Law

Updates from the University of North Dakota School of Law.

How ND is combatting an attorney shortage in rural areas: Liz Fordahl ’21 is quoted

Published: Feb. 9, 2022 at 6:59 PM CST
BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) – There are about 1,700 licensed attorneys in North Dakota, but most of them practice in the state’s seven most populous counties. In response, the state is implanting a program to help get lawyers to smaller communities.

North Dakota doesn’t have enough attorneys. More specifically, there aren’t enough attorneys in smaller communities statewide.

To combat that problem, the state legislature passed a law last year to pay attorneys $45,000 over five years to practice in rural towns and counties.

People who need legal representation don’t have a problem finding attorneys in Bismarck, Mandan, and Minot. But if you live in Slope County with a population of only 700 people, it’s a challenge to meet with a lawyer in person.

For recent law school graduates, the state’s new program to address that issue might be appealing.

”For the right person, it’s a really great opportunity and it’s an opportunity that’s going to entice someone to go back to those communities where it might be an option that they’re already seriously considering,” said Liz Fordahl, a recent graduate of the University of North Dakota School of Law.

However, that’s not the case for Liz.

”Personally, that was not an option that I considered seriously because it just wasn’t a good fit for me,” said Liz.

The $45,000 state subsidy to attorneys working in rural areas will be made in five equal, annual payments. The Supreme Court of North Dakota will pay 50% of the incentive, the city or county will pay 35%, and the North Dakota Bar Association will pay 15%.

”This kind of an incentive is something that has been used in North Dakota especially for a lot of different kinds of things. I know we’ve done this for teachers in the past. We’ve done this for areas where there’s a shortage of professional people in a community to be able to serve that community,” said Sen. Diane Larson, co-sponsor of the bill that passed the legislature last session.

While it’s possible to conduct business remotely, Larson says it’s important to have lawyers physically present.

”We’ve all been through enough of those calls to recognize that although it’s convenient at times, especially for follow-up things, a person that needs an attorney needs to be able to speak to somebody and have a level of trust. And that’s difficult to do when you can’t meet with a person,” said Larson.

Five counties statewide don’t have any lawyers, and 35 counties have fewer than 10 attorneys.

Attorneys can apply for the program at any time. As for communities hoping to participate, they must apply by March 31st to be eligible this year.

Watch the news report from KFYRTV