It's been a little over a week since I started working with Terryl, the solo practitioner in Cut Bank, Montana—located right on the eastern edge of the Blackfeet tribe reservation in very northern Montana. I've broken my mold into the trusty couch in the conference room, and have established my routine here: I wake up, work, eat some snacks (yum), work, go to bed, and do it all over again the next day.
And I am really, really enjoying it.
I actually have zero (and I mean zero) social life outside of work, but I'm digging it for the time being. In fact, Terryl and Deb (our legal secretary), and I are going out to the Moose Lodge on Wednesday night, and this is the first time I've "gone out on town" in weeks! I must say though—this weary traveler/lawyer is grateful for pause and quiet respite in the evenings. It's been a wonderful (but tiring) 4 months so far on the road since leaving Oakland in early July.
When I was in Delano/Bakersfield, California this July, I remember my social life was rather nonexistent there, too (although it was bustling compared to here in Montana). I remember running into a friend from law school who took a job in the greater Bakersfield area at a social event downtown there. She told me that no matter where you are—there you are. You are who you are—no matter where you are.
Her words have carried with me more than she probably realizes. It's true—in the big city, it is much easier to get caught up in the "scene"—the frenetic energy of it all. Not here in Cut Bank, where the nearest town Shelby is 25 miles east and the closest city is Great Falls—100 miles east of here. And Great Falls is where one must go in order to go to a department store around here.
If anything, it's a comforting reminder that I am very content spending long amounts of time on my own. Sure, every once in awhile, I realize how isolated I am and have a millisecond wave of panic wash over me: Oh man—where am I? What am I doing?! But it usually passes pretty quickly and I am able to root myself in the work and experience here once more.
And when you're the only attorney in an isolated 100 mile area—and one that is dealing with one of our country's most marginalized groups—those belonging to an indigenous tribe living on a reservation—there is a LOT of work to be done.
The scale of the cases that I have been able to assist with have frankly blown me away and renews my commitment with fervor. Ordinarily, because of attorney/client confidentiality, I cannot discuss the case. But every once in awhile, depending on where the case is and if there is public press about it—there's more of a window to share:
It has been eye-opening to see so many things here. First, I have never spent any time on a reservation, and already I consider it to be an invaluable experience. As I mentioned last week, it is still embroiled in the act of colonization, which brings an awful and unique feeling of despondence and depression in various forms. It is something I feel every American should know exists—again, we must break out of these community silos that are so comfortable for us to nestle in. We need to know what is going on in our country.
Also, being a solo practitioner in such a large swath of rural land means you are a jack-of-all-trades, really. The office handles major impact litigation such as the case above, and individual cases that affect people's lives in equally major ways. It is a busy place, that is for sure!
I remember reading that states such as South Dakota were incentivizing young attorneys to move out to rural parts of the state because there was such a dearth of practicing lawyers there. In fact, some rural counties in this country do not have any practicing lawyers at all. What does that mean for access to the American right of due process and access to legal services as a whole? After a week and a half here working in Cut Bank, it's a further insight into the breadth and depth of the inequalities re: the access of justice—and that's just focusing on this part of rural America.
There is a major opportunity for attorneys to be able to help bend the arc toward justice in very rural areas—particularly where there is an intersection of other marginalization issues, such as what is transpiring on reservations.
Certainly, the argument against becoming a truly rural attorney would be the social isolation it can potentially create. I admit—in this very conservative area, I feel like I have to keep my progressive/liberal ideologies not as aired out as when I was on the West Coast. (aka, I don't think I'll be going into the Moose Lodge on Wednesday proclaiming: Feel the Bern, people, feel. the. Bern!!!)
Being considerably more tempered in this way can be difficult for me. But there are delightful advantages to such a small area—such as everyone literally knowing everyone else's name and a genuine sense of community—something that frequently feels lacking from the time I spent in more urban areas. I do feel more relaxed even though there's so much work to do—there just aren't any distractions competing for my use of time.
But this I know for sure—this won't be my last rural stop on my journey. I can't wait to keep you all posted about what is coming up around the bend very shortly.
In the meantime, if anyone wants to be pen-pals (yay!), my address is such until Friday, November 20th (that is, hoping the snow will relatively hold off until then...):
310 E. Main St.; Cut Bank, MT 59427
It may take a 'lil while for mail to get out here, but it'll get here. ;) I miss you all, wherever you may be. It makes my heart full to know that your smiling faces are all over the country (and even internationally!)—like beacons of light. And that's a beautiful thing to think about. Until next time—sending lots of love and peace.