Practicing Law in a Small Town

If your case is filed in a small community, you may benefit from a lawyer knowledgeable with local practice...

Fond du Lac, Wisconsin is a unique community.  Being a lawyer in a less populated area comes with its pros and cons.  I have had the benefit of practicing law for years in a large metropolitan area before moving to Fond du Lac.  When it comes to the law, there is a clear difference in culture and attitudes even within rural and urban areas of Southeast Wisconsin, let alone different states.

The perception by many, especially those living in the smaller communities, seems to be that lawyers in the larger metropolitan areas are more sophisticated and more experienced.  Even the lawyers may occasionally catch themselves harboring underestimation.  

But we all learn eventually that you can't judge a book by its cover.  Take my situation, for example; you never know how much or where the lawyer gained their experience.  Assuming I practiced my entire career in rural Southeast Wisconsin is as much a mistake as assuming anything about opposing counsel.  

A good lawyer always starts with the assumption that his opponent will be able to put on a solid trial case.  Rarely is it wise to engage in the type of hopeful thinking that comes with assumptions about opposing counsel's legal abilities.  A battle is easily lost by underestimating one's opponent.

While I may currently practice primarily in smaller areas such as Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, and Sheboygan, I have handled a diversity of trials, from murder cases to contract disputes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.  I have served as a criminal defense attorney, a prosecutor, an arbitrator, personal injury plaintiff's attorney, and defended businesses for construction defect.

I have practiced in two states since 1998.  I have faced other sole practitioners as well as the heavy papering tactics of firms with hundreds of attorneys at their disposal.  I have found no difference in the outcomes based on the size of the opponent.  When push comes to shove, it's one attorney who does the talking.  Juries don't care where the lawyer is from or who they work for.

All lawyers go through similar education.  Most take the bar exam (although Wisconsin is unique in that it allows lawyers who attend a Wisconsin law School to skip the exam).  I have had the pleasure of passing the bar exam in two states.  You are more likely to draw reliable conclusions from a lawyer's educational performance and practice results than from office location.  There is a reason why word of mouth remains the most valuable advertising for lawyers, whether in Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, or Milwaukee.  Client satisfaction is the true measure of success.

If your case is filed in a small community, you may benefit from a lawyer knowledgeable with local practice.  In larger communities, judges see many attorneys and may not develop the same knowledge of an individual as can occur in a less populated area.  I have found  that lawyers practicing in rural areas usually have less difficulty adapting to the metropolitan courthouse than vice versa.  

Hiring a lawyer can be a very personalized decision.  If you are an individual or a small business, you should develop a close relationship with your lawyer.  Large businesses and large law firms often work well together due to the volume of work and the ability to afford the billable hours required.  An individual, on the other hand, may be better served by the sole practitioner or small firm.  You should be looking for confidence, responsiveness, and personal attention.  The size of the firm and its location should be well down the list of concerns.  How long does it take to get a return phone call?  How easy is it to schedule an appointment?  Do you speak to the lawyer in charge or an associate?  Are you regularly kept abreast of case developments?  Does your billing feel out of control?  Are you confident in your attorney?

It takes fortitude for anyone to run a business.   Being a sole practitioner is no different.  Attorneys must know their abilities and handle cases without falling back on supervision.  Sole practitioners are the final decision makers and are often attorneys who have the most practical case experience.  When you do all the work yourself, you tend to know the case inside and out, better than anyone.

Perceptions are human nature and often rule our decision making, right or wrong.  Being aware of our own bias can sometimes clear the air.  If not, it may be one more thing an experienced small town lawyer can use to his advantage.