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Rule in place for rural attorney recruitment program Friday, November 12, 2021

On Sept. 22, 2021, new Administrative Rule 62 took effect. This rule establishes guidelines for the rural attorney recruitment program for North Dakota.

The program is authorized under new N.D.C.C. ch. 27-02.2, which sets out a basic framework for the effort. N.D.C.C. 27-02.2-12 gives the Supreme Court authority to make rules to implement the program.

The recruitment program is modeled on a South Dakota program that has been in effect since 2013. The South Dakota program currently has 25 lawyer participants working in rural counties across the state.

N.D.C.C. 27-02.2-05 provides attorneys selected to participate in the program an incentive of $45,000 to be paid in five equal installments. N.D.C.C. 27-02.2-04 allows four attorneys to participate in the program at a time.

Under N.D.C.C. 27-02.2-02, the threshold for a county to be eligible for recruitment assistance is a population of 16,000 or fewer; for a municipality N.D.C.C. 27-02.2-03 requires a population of 5,000 or less.

Counties and municipalities seeking to participate in the program must agree to provide a portion of the lawyer incentive payment: under N.D.C.C. 27-02.2-06, they must pay 35 percent of the total. The State Bar Association of North Dakota is required to pay 15 percent and the remaining 50 percent comes from state funds via the Supreme Court.

Under N.D.C.C. 27-02.2-05, the Supreme Court is required to set the requirements for attorneys to participate in the program. N.D.C.C. 27-02.2-01 also requires the Court to determine which counties and municipalities qualify for recruitment assistance.

Rule 62, section 2, lists the information a county or municipality interested in participating in the program must supply in its application. The application must explain the locality’s need for an attorney and its ability to sustain and support one. It also must provide detailed information on the demographics of the locality, including population and the age and number of members of the bar in the area. The county or municipality must also obtain a recommendation from the presiding judge of the judicial district where they are located.

Once an application for participation is received, the Supreme Court will perform an assessment under the procedure set out in Rule 62, section 3. The Court will first appoint a three-member assessment committee consisting of a district judge, an attorney and a court administrator. The committee will determine whether the locality is eligible to participate under N.D.C.C. 27-02.2-02 and 27-02.2-03.

If eligibility is found, the committee will then determine whether the locality needs an attorney and has the ability to sustain and support an attorney. The committee is required to consider the information submitted by the locality, but it is also allowed to conduct whatever outside research it considers appropriate.

N.D.C.C. 27-02-01 requires the Supreme Court to maintain a list of counties and municipalities that have been assessed and are selected for participation in the recruitment assistance program. It also allows the Court to revise any assessment or to conduct a new assessment to reflect a change in conditions.

As for attorneys seeking to participate in the program, Rule 62, section 4, requires them to provide proof of licensure to practice law in North Dakota, proof of U.S. citizenship or permanent residency status, and a copy of their law school transcript. Applicants must also produce information about whether they are obligated to provide attorney services in an underserved area because of participation in a scholarship, loan repayment or tuition reimbursement program.

If an attorney is selected for the program, they must locate their law office in the participating county or municipality and reside close to that location. They will be required to agree to remain in the participating community for at least five consecutive years, which is the period of time over which the installment incentive payments will be made.

Under Rule 62, section 5, the office of state court administrator will manage the program, including maintaining a list of counties and municipalities that have been selected for participation and monitoring the funding of incentive payments.