Academic journal article South Dakota Law Review

Project Rural Practice: Its People and Its Purpose

Academic journal article South Dakota Law Review

Project Rural Practice: Its People and Its Purpose

Article excerpt

This article recounts the story of Project Rural Practice ("PRP") from its inception to date. Like the story of rural America, the story of PRP cannot be effectively told without telling the story of its people. The common interest for each of these people is expressed in the purpose of PRP, which is both to assure meaningful access to legal services in rural communities and also to ensure rural communities remain "not just viable, but thriving." (1) The compelling story of PRP illustrates what can be accomplished when good people work toward a common purpose. Our hope is the story of PRP motivates and inspires positive action here at home and elsewhere in rural America.


A. The Country Lawyer: A Deep-Rooted Rural History (2)

[Ee] could have gone to the city, but [hisers] roots are deep in [hisers] community.... [Ee] is the man [or woman] of action whenever the community needs leadership. [Ee] makes a living, and a good one considering the resources of the community, but no fellow citizen with a problem stays away because [ee's] afraid of the legal fee. Lawyer [ee] is, and philosopher too, who loves the community [ee] serves beyond the measure of money or personal honors. [Hisers] principal compensation comes from the love and praise of [hisers] fellowmen.... [Hisers] work, legal, social and cultural, brings honor to [hisers] name and to [hisers] profession. (3)

These passages lauding the Country Lawyer ably and accurately describe the not-too-distant past in South Dakota. South Dakota's humble rural communities were home to many iconic country lawyers who dispensed prairie wisdom from their Main Street office and shaped the history of the Bar, their local communities, and the state. Although these iconic country lawyers were right at home on Main Street, their talents and ambitions produced a legacy that Main Street could not contain.

We remember several giants. M.Q. Sharpe was a Main Street lawyer of significance who became Governor from his Kennebec law practice and mentored many prominent lawyers and politicians who were known as the Lyman County Mafia. (4) Another Kennebec lawyer, A.C. Miller, practiced law on the opposite side of Kennebec's Main Street from Mr. Sharpe's office. In 1943, M.Q. Sharpe served as Governor and A.C. Miller served as Lt. Governor, at the same time, making Kennebec the only community in South Dakota history to have both the sitting Governor and Lt. Governor from the same community. (5)

Other giants from across the state bear recognition. First, Sam Masten, from Canton, whose legendary advocacy skills resulted in USD School of Law naming its annual Moot Court Competition after him. Next, Rick Johnson, a fearless litigator, who succeeded his father, George, and was himself succeeded by his daughter Stephanie and son George in a third generation law firm on Main Street in Gregory. Additionally, the Honorable Mildred Ramynke, originally from Morristown, who became South Dakota's first female judge and the inspiration for The Trailblazer Award, an award given annually by the Law School's Women In Law organization. Lastly, Arthur Frieberg was the first of four generations of Frieberg's to practice law in Beresford, with his son Roscoe, grandson Bob, and great-grandson Tom representing three generations of South Dakota State Bar Presidents. For more stories of distinguished country lawyers, just button-hole anyone over the age of forty who calls a small town their home.

These lawyers practiced in a different time. South Dakota rural communities were growing in population. Small town schools were at capacity. Main Street store front vacancies were minimal. The constriction in the number of farms and ranches had not yet adversely affected rural economies. Rural Main Streets were well-stocked with country lawyers. Legal work was plentiful, challenging, and profitable. Law school graduates did not second guess a return to their home town. …

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