Why not Colby?

This is not about what we practice. It is about where we practice. Though, the two are often inextricably intertwined.

Yesterday, I enjoyed making fun of North Dakota with a few friends. I like this because, while I’m also from a sparsely populated state, I can always revel in the fact that folks in ND will always have it worse than me.

Statistical Tidbit: North Dakota population: 699,628. Kansas population: 2.886 million. Number of votes for Mark Bennett in his bid as a Libertarian for a seat on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals: 1.326 million.

This got me thinking about where lawyers choose to live and work.

Some lawyers want to work in huge cities. New York. Washington. Boston. Philly. Chicago. Houston. San Francisco. Miami. Los Angeles. And the like.

Others prefer the smaller, yet significant cities like Oklahoma City, Fresno, Portland, Charlotte, Richmond, Kansas City, etc.

Others of us go for something…..well…..less substantial. I’m one of these.

I want to eventually settle my practice in Colby, Kansas.Image

Now, hear me out on this one. Consider a few important factors. I’ll grade each.

Availability of Work: A

Last year, I attended a continuing education seminar where the idea of selling, closing, and/or passing-on a practice was raised. The conversation morphed into some lamenting by an older lawyer from Colby, Kansas. He noted that it was virtually impossible to lure younger lawyers to the area. He feared that his practice would die with him. It wasn’t that he wanted to leave a legacy. Quite appropriately, he was worried about his clients who relied upon him for various legal needs. The paying work was definitely there, but too few lawyers live in the area to handle it.

Air Quality: A-

Overall, the air quality is fantastic. However, I did dock points for the occasional dust storm and summertime pesticide applications on the huge farms surrounding the town. Even with that, the air quality is markedly better than those facing persistent smog in larger cities.

Availability of Services: C+

Walmart put a gleaming new SuperCenter there, so all the basics can be handled. Aside from that, there are some mom’n’pop stores and cafes coupled with a few chain places along I-70. While I’ve seen worse, folks in larger cities definitely have it better. Colby is still working on its status as a great place to find quality seafood.

Weather: B

Good news: no hurricane threat, fairly ho-hum temperate environment.

Bad news: Can get bitterly cold in winter, especially with the near-constant westerly winds. Every time you glance at clouds to the southwest, there’s the constant wondering whether they might be bringing a long-overdue F-5 tornado.

At more than 3000 feet above sea level, you’re safe from the flooding that’ll be cause by those pesky Antarctic ice sheets. For a while.

Things to Do: B-

You might be surprised to learn that Colby is the home of the Prairie Museum of Art and History and is conveniently located just 2.5 hours from Mount Sunflower, the highest point in Kansas. Check out this site which goes into more detail about Colby. Be sure to also check out the “8 Wonders of Thomas County, Kansas.

Denver is a mere 4 hours along I-70, and the thriving metropolis of Hays, Kansas is just 2 in the other direction.

This is a great place for those who find sport in observing mullets in their natural environment.


A picture taken by intrepid climbers at Mt. Sunflower.

Cost of Living: A+

To give you a bit of understanding for how far a dollar goes in Colby, look no farther than the local restaurant reviews. A Qdoba opened along I-70, and one of the locals regarded it as being “pricey.”

Average home price is less than $60 per square foot. That’s great considering that most of the US is higher than $75/. Commercial office space is equally (if not more) cheap and is readily available. I can already see myself as a valued neighbor to the Feed’n’Seed store.

As for everything else, expect to pay very little for the goods that are available. Of course, most expensive goods are not available, so your sorta forced to be frugal. Going to a fancy restaurant with the ladyfriend equals steaks at Montana Mike’s.

Quality of Work: A

This is largely a matter of perspective. You really have no choice but to be one of those small town guys who does a little of everything. From divorce to criminal to small business to municipal to animal husbandry. You’ll do all of this because the community needs you to do it. Prepare to travel to nearby (nearby = 2 hours) counties to appear in those courts. For those with adult ADD, you’ll be in heaven. For those who want to become a subject matter expert in one, specific, sharply-definied niche, this wouldn’t be a good marriage.

Sick of traffic every morning and afternoon? That doesn’t exist here. To Colbites, “traffic” is something that is occasionally observed zooming-by on I-70.

You’ll be a bigwig in the local chamber of commerce along with the banker, pharmacist, and funeral home director. The little league team will bear your firm’s name on the back of the jerseys. If you learn how to square dance, you’ll be mayor in a few years.

Overall GPA (on a 4-point scale): 3.42

That’s a solid GPA that would put most students on the honor role. As far as places to work, you couldn’t ask for better, as long as you’re not a big fan of choices……and seafood.



9 thoughts on “Why not Colby?

  1. Sounds pretty appealing. The deal-breaker for me, however, would be the need to do all kinds of law. I have enough trouble as it is staying current with criminal defense.

    • Same here. Considering that I’m in a fairly specialized niche, it would be tough to try and navigate several areas. Though, the western KS practice of water law is becoming a very needed an exciting field. Yes, I know that sounds like a joke, but it isn’t.

      You probably could focus primarily on criminal law, but you must be willing to travel a 4-6 county circuit.

  2. I don’t eat the sushi here in Nebraska — other than that and a few other inconsequential things a small town is a great place to practice. At 43 I think I’m the youngest lawyer (that I know of) in this county by about 15 years. I telecommute to support my niche practice, but if I didn’t I’d shoot for a practice in contracts, real-estate/land-lord tenant issues, and estate planning and settlement.

    • Frankly, I’m a huge fan of Nebraska sushi, but only if it is cooked on one of those rolly things in a gas station that they use to cook hotdogs and poor quality smoked sausages.

  3. Assessing the factors that motivate a lawyer to determine where and why to practice law in a particular community vary from person to person. In my view I have considered factors that typically may not be popular and even very difficult to express for concern of being misunderstood. But, I had to be realistic about what factors might influence my probability of success. As a proud yet humble Mexican American, I heavily considered the racial make up of the community I chose to practice in. Credibility is too often judged by one’s ethnicity and preconceived stereotypes, so I wanted to practice in an area that resembled my own ethnicity; I felt this would put me in an even playing field. Culture, values, and world outlook, I believe differ from race to race. My practice has experienced a very healthy measure of success in the last 26 years in large part because I practice in an area where I understand people very well and believe they understand me fully due to our common culture, values and understanding. I hope this comment is helpful as that is my purpose in sharing my thoughts.

  4. Eric, you’ve been picked up by ABA’s weekly newsletter. The hits are going to come surging in, I suspect.

    As someone who located out to Western Kansas about eighteen months ago (from central Delaware, of all places!) at the ripe old age of 27 (and just after passing the bar), I considered Colby. I ultimately found it a little *too* small for my own tastes, as I need something a little more substantive. As I ended up in Garden City — a metropolis of 26,000! — it wasn’t that much more, in the grand scheme of things.

    Western Kansas — be it NWKS or SWKS — does constantly get knocked as an undesirable place to live, for reasons which escape me. Well, beyond that the natives have just as much antipathy for Topeka and Johnson County as the latter seem to have for the former. Good job fighting the good fight to disprove that.

Comments are closed.