Tales from the Frontier— Rural Lawyering in Colorado, 0218 COBJ, Vol. 47, No. 2 Pg. 4

Author:DICK GAST, J.
Position:Vol. 47, 2 [Page 4]

47 Colo.Law 4

Tales from the Frontier— Rural Lawyering in Colorado

Vol. 47, No. 2 [Page 4]

The Colorado Lawyer

February, 2018



Colorado stretches far and wide. So too must its lawyers. Our numbers are certainly concentrated in the urban corridor that is the Front Range. But some of our hardiest souls practice their craft in areas far removed from that corridor.

These areas are often characterized as being “outstate.” I prefer to call them “greater Colorado.” Greater Colorado is characterized by the kind of places where the mayor is also the owner of the hardware store and where a trip to get groceries means seeing at least a few other people you know. It is also characterized by a need for lawyers. In many rural communities, more senior lawyers are looking to wind down but don’t have a pipeline of younger lawyers to take over their practices. That creates gaps in legal resources for those communities. As noted in the Rural Working Group report compiled during the 2017 Justice for All strategic planning process, four Colorado counties don’t have any registered attorneys: Cheyenne, Hinsdale, San Juan, and Sedgwick.1 And in the San Luis Valley, there are 62 lawyers (most in Alamosa) to serve 8,204 square miles and 47,104 people.2 That’s one attorney for every 760 people or 132 square miles.

In this month’s President’s Message, I am privileged to highlight a few of our rural lawyers who have graciously agreed to share their stories about the challenges and rewards of practicing in greater Colorado.

Melinda Sherman—Steamboat Springs

Melinda has been practicing with a small firm in Steamboat Springs for over 24 years, focusing on estate planning, real estate, water law, special districts, homeowner associations, and business formation/transactions. Melinda shared the following insights about practicing law in greater Colorado:

▶ To succeed in a small town practice, a lawyer must diversify practice areas and clients. There simply isn’t enough work to support a specialized practice focusing on just one or two areas of the law. While it is challenging to stay up to date on several constantly changing practice areas, it is also rewarding because it keeps things fresh and interesting.

▶ In a small town, I have to compartmentalize and be able to separate my professional life from my personal life. I may be filing a lawsuit against a person for a prescriptive easement at 10:00 a.m. one day, and at noon, I may be sitting next to that same defendant in my child’s school having lunch. I have the unique opportunity to get to know people in every facet of their lives. For example, I get to know a city councilperson in her role on the council, and as a mother and friend while volunteering in class. It is challenging to navigate the line between professional and personal relationships; however, the reward is that I fully know people in all the different hats they wear.

▶ Practicing in a small town puts me in close proximity to home, my children’s schools, and various after school activities. I can drive from my office to school to my house to the ski area to drop my son of at ski race training...

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