A significant stride forward in expanding legal services in rural areas of Ohio, House Bill 150 was signed into law last year which creates and funds Ohio’s Rural Practice Incentive Program. Effective April 3, 2023, HB 150 authorizes a student loan payment of up to $50,000 for attorneys who are accepted into and then subsequently meet the Program’s criteria by serving for at least 3 years in an “underserved” county in Ohio.
According to the Council of State Governments Midwestern Office, this move is part of a growing trend across the Midwest to utilize financial incentives to encourage young attorneys to work in rural counties that have inadequate bar communities. In the 10 years that a similar program has been in effect in South Dakota, nearly half of the participants completed their term of service (5 years) and of those who completed that term, 80% remained in the rural community beyond that term.
In order to qualify for the loan payment, the attorney must be within their first 7 years of practice and complete at least three years of the following:
- Be employed as an attorney for at least 35 hours per week for 45 weeks of the year by the State Public Defender, county prosecutor or county or joint county public defender commission; or
- Perform work as court-appointed counsel or representing indigent clients for at least 520 hours per year.
If selected for the program, the attorney cannot also participate in a state or federally funded student loan repayment or debt forgiveness program, such as PSLF.
Increasing the number of attorneys in rural and underserved communities throughout Ohio is valuable to the public and the profession as a whole. Adding younger attorneys to rural bars both creates opportunities for relationships with established practitioners and supports the profession’s need to expand succession planning for solo attorneys and small firms. Encouraging attorneys to plant their roots in rural communities also allows opportunities for these attorneys to be engaged in public and civic service. The ABA has voiced its concerns over the what it has called “legal deserts” in rural areas of the country and notes the negative impact on lower-resourced people who don’t have access to attorneys for even basic legal needs, such as estate planning and real estate transactions. HB 150 seeks to address these concerns and objectives.
Mentorship between attorneys at different points in their careers can be mutually beneficial by giving younger attorneys access to experience and knowledge of longer-practicing lawyers and by building relationships that could assist in providing continuity of representation in the event an attorney is no longer able to practice. Such relationships can lead to improved legal service delivery and reduce the potential for missteps. OBLIC has often encouraged mentoring as part of an active succession plan.
For more on HB 150, see the Final Analysis published by the Legislative Service Commission.
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|Gretchen K. Mote, Esq.
Director of Loss Prevention
Ohio Bar Liability Insurance Co.
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Loss Prevention Counsel
Ohio Bar Liability Insurance Co.
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