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Published September 18, 2023
The UW College of Law helps students stay in the state, addressing the shortage of rural lawyers.
By Micaela Myers
Ready for the Real World
Rural America can’t recruit enough professionals, including lawyers. The University of Wyoming College of Law addresses this issue with a number of programs — and they’re working. While about half of the students who attend come from out of state, the majority stay in Wyoming after graduation.
Since its creation in 2009, the College of Law’s Rural Law Center has worked to encourage and prepare students to serve rural communities through speakers, presentations, conferences and a Legislative Research Service to help them learn about rural issues. “UW’s Rural Law Center has been working with the Wyoming State Bar the past few years to develop strategies and programs to attract and support rural lawyers,” says Director Alan Romero.
UW also offers Legal Liftoff and an externship program that serve to further prepare students.
“Legal Liftoff matches students with mentors throughout the state over the course of spring break to create connections and exposure to rural practice and various practice areas,” says Director Career Services and Professional Development Ashli Tomisich. “There are perceptions about rural practice. Hanging your own shingle is a very intimidating thing. Getting students into these smaller practices has been very beneficial in demystifying the process.”
The college’s externship program provides further experience, placing students into public interest clerkship settings to earn course credit over an academic term. There, they get to dive into the action much more than interns typically get to do in larger cities.
“A lot of students come to law school because they want to make a difference — they want to help people,” Tomisich says. “The externship program gives them a hands-on opportunity to see how their work is impactful and how much of a need there is.”
Marshall Keller, Keller Law Firm
Marshall Keller came to UW as a nontraditional student. He had earned his undergraduate degree in Montana and then went to work in Gillette before graduating from law school in 2019.
“I am a solo law practitioner,” he says. “I love being a part of the community in Thermopolis. I love the outdoors and many of the people in the state.”
To current students, he adds: “Look at what our rural communities need by speaking to professionals in our rural areas.”
Bethany Gilson Casey, Legacy Law
Bethany Gilson Casey came to UW from Castle Dale, Utah, and graduated in 2019. She then opened an estate planning practice in Rock Springs.
“I love serving my clients and helping their families in a very personal way,” she says. “I also love the people in my community and connecting with other women business owners.”
To UW students who want to stay in Wyoming, Gilson Casey says: “You can live and work wherever you want. Resource yourself! Find mentors, get out of your comfort zone, and go for things you want.”
Colby Sturgeon, Attorney at Law
Colby Sturgeon returned to his hometown of Torrington to go into general practice after completing his law degree in 2018.
“I have always known I wanted to live and work in Wyoming after graduating,” he says. “Most people in Wyoming are friendly and helpful, which makes it feel like a real community. I also like the access to outdoor recreation and rodeo events — my other passion.”
At UW, he established a solid network, which helped him start his own business.
“UW provided a great opportunity for me to pursue my dreams,” Sturgeon says. “I was able to obtain a high-quality education at an affordable price. I would encourage UW students to stay in Wyoming, as there are many possibilities and opportunities in these small Wyoming towns for young hard-working people. My favorite aspect of my job is that the work that needs to be done in Goshen County is often meaningful and fulfilling.”