- Associated Press - Sunday, November 2, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The number of lawyers practicing in rural parts of Iowa is steadily declining because older lawyers are retiring and few young lawyers are moving to those areas.

The Des Moines Register reports (http://dmreg.co/1yOEluN ) that the lack of lawyers is forcing people from rural parts to drive significant distances for legal help.

A state database shows that 75 percent of Iowa’s attorneys work in 11 counties all with sizeable cities.

At one extreme, Polk County - the state’s most populated county - has 2,517 attorneys. At the other end, Ringgold County in southern Iowa has only two.

One of those Ringgold County lawyers, 66-year-old James Pedersen, wants to retire but he hasn’t been able to find anyone to buy his successful law firm.

“We take so many things for granted in our world, in our society and in our communities,” Pedersen said. “And one of these days . people are going to say, ‘Why don’t we have any attorneys here?’ You’ve got to fight for those things.”

It’s common for people to drive 45 minutes from Mount Ayr to Osceola to find a lawyer, said Karen Bender, a Ringgold County economic development official.

Bender said the county is trying to draw manufacturers to the area, but officials haven’t focused on attracting lawyers or other professionals.

“Sometimes you don’t think of those things until maybe it’s a little too late,” she said.

Attorney Phil Garland, who leads the Iowa State Bar Association’s rural practice committee, said the decline in rural lawyers hasn’t caught the attention of state lawmakers the way doctor shortages have.

Advocates are developing programs to attract young lawyers to rural areas, but progress is slow. Garland helped create a summer clerkship program that gives students a taste of small-town legal work. In the program’s first year, 15 University of Iowa law students applied.

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com

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