Kelsey Hollingshead, ’13, plans to open rural practice

Rural and small-town residents are quickly losing access to legal services as aging attorneys retire and close their small practices, leaving a void that often isn’t filled by younger lawyers.

Third-year law student Kelsey Hollingshead hopes to change that when she starts her career as a solo practitioner in Britt, Iowa (pop. 2,000) under the wing of a local attorney.

Hollingshead was instrumental in capturing national attention this year on the growing need for attorneys in rural America. As a second-year law student, she invited Philip Garland, a lawyer from Garner, Iowa who chairs the ISBA’s Rural Practice Committee, to introduce Iowa Law students to the ISBA’s new program that encourages law students to practice in rural areas. This rural summer clerkship program provides opportunities for law students to work at rural or small-town practices during their summers in law school, focusing on providing very practical legal experience as well as exposing students to options they may have not yet considered.

The program hosted 15 clerks and interns last summer and hopes to arrange even more placements this summer.

“I’ve always been interested in working in a small town,” said Hollingshead, a native of Eagle Grove, Iowa. “I like the sense of community, and you can make more of a difference in a small town.”

Hollingshead clerked in Britt, Iowa last summer after spending her 2011 summer as a clerk at a firm in Eagle Grove (pop. 3,300). The growing need for attorneys in rural America became apparent to her during those summer clerkship experiences.

Eagle Grove, for instance, has only three attorneys working in two firms. Britt has only three small firms. That dearth of lawyers forces residents to drive to other towns for such basic legal services as selling a house, drafting a contract, or probating a will. Hollingshead says that because many rural residents are elderly, traveling long distances to work with far-off attorneys is even more inconvenient. She hopes this program will be beneficial to law students and young attorneys, retiring small-town practitioners, and those rural and small-town communities affected by the void.