Member School Highlight – University of South Dakota Knudson School of Law

Location: Vermillion, South Dakota
Founded: 1901
Joined AALS: 1907
Dean: Neil Fulton

Established in 1901, the University of South Dakota Knudson School of Law is a premier public law school, preparing today’s students to be tomorrow’s leaders in the legal profession. USD Knudson Law is committed to setting its 85 first-year JD students toward a successful, lifelong career in law. USD Knudson Law offers a variety of course tracks and joint programs, ensuring your education is tailored to your professional goals. The USD Knudson Law is a community of excellence, service, and leadership. These core values manifest in the work of the lawyers who serve rural communities in South Dakota and beyond.

Rural communities provide lawyers unique opportunities to engage in excellent legal work, serve vibrant communities, and assume leadership positions early and often in their careers. Unfortunately, far too many rural communities face lawyer shortages, and far too many young lawyers are unaware of the opportunities that exist in these communities. The University of South Dakota Knudson School of Law demonstrates its commitment to partnering with lawyers and rural communities through creative programs and curricula that develop lawyers with the skills and inclination to provide the legal services that rural communities need to thrive. USD Knudson Law is uniquely placed to address rural communities’ legal needs and opportunities.

Project Rural Practice is a cooperative effort between the South Dakota State Bar, South Dakota Unified Judicial System, and local governments to support rural attorney placement through a loan forgiveness and mentorship support program. That program has placed almost thirty lawyers in rural communities across South Dakota. The South Dakota Law Review commemorated one such partnership in September of 2023 with its Symposium to mark the tenth anniversary of South Dakota’s Project Rural Practice. The SDLR symposium brought together scholars from across the country, South Dakota rural practitioners, and current students to reflect on the accomplishments of PRP and similar programs, as well as the challenges that continue to shape the legal landscape of rural America. Additionally, Career Services hosted a second annual rural recruitment fair with the Symposium. The fair welcomed lawyers from many rural South Dakota communities to the Law School to meet students, share information about their communities and practices, and arrange summer internships and permanent job placements.

The University of South Dakota Knudson School of Law emphasizes curricular opportunities focusing on rural practice, like a seminar on agricultural law and classes in environmental law, natural resources, and water law. Across the curriculum, even standard classes like Trusts and Estates, Business Associations, Externships, and Bankruptcy focus on how those bodies of law engage rural and agricultural issues. The University of South Dakota Knudson School of Law also focuses on the rural communities in Indian Country. South Dakota and many of the states that surround it have among the highest percentages of Native citizens. Focusing on Indian Law through a survey course and classes on Tribal Gaming, Tribal Courts, Indian Law at the Supreme Court, and other courses provides the backbone of the Knudson School of Law’s Indian Law Certificate.

USD Knudson Law’s commitment to rural legal issues is also reflected in faculty scholarship. Professor Hannah Haksgaard, a 2023 recipient of USD’s Belbas-Larson Award for Excellence in Teaching, has written several articles about the delivery of rural legal services. She has a forthcoming book that evaluates the history and future of Project Rural Practice in South Dakota and provides insight into how other rural states can replicate that success. Haksgaard also pulls together other scholars on rural legal issues through events like a Law and Rurality Workshop conducted virtually on November 17 in partnership with the University of Nebraska Law School.

“USD Knudson Law is proudly a rural law school,” said Neil Fulton, Dean of the University of South Dakota Knudson School of Law. “Many of our faculty, staff, students, and alumni come from and return to rural communities. We recognize that our graduates will have unique opportunities and needs to connect with and work in rural communities. As a result, we work hard in our recruitment, placement, and curriculum development to be a resource to help meet the legal needs of rural communities in South Dakota and beyond. Students and faculty in search of a smaller, closer community will find a home at USD Knudson Law.”

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