July 2, 2019: New York State Bar Association to Examine the State of Rural Law Practice in New York

Newly Formed Task Force Will Make Recommendations for Potential Changes in Law and Public Policy to Support Law Practice and Access to Justice in Rural Communities

New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) President Henry M. Greenberg announced today the creation of the Task Force on Rural Justice to examine the state of rural law practice in New York State. Ninety-seven percent of all New York lawyers work and live in urban and suburban areas, causing a dearth of legal services in rural areas.

“Research confirms what many attorneys in upstate New York already know -- that there is an access to justice crisis in rural areas throughout New York and across the country,” said Greenberg. “NYSBA remains committed to ensuring access to justice for all New Yorkers, regardless of where they live, and the important work of this task force will go a long way toward enacting the necessary reforms to achieve that goal.”

The task force will investigate the impact of rural attorney shortages on access to justice, challenges in delivering legal services in rural areas, and the unique practice needs of rural practitioners. The task force will also make recommendations for potential changes in law and public policy and will identify viable solutions to support rural law practice and greater access to justice across New York’s rural communities. 

Hon. Stan L. Pritzker, an associate justice on the Appellate Division, Third Department, and Taier Perlman, staff attorney at Albany Law School’s Government Law Center (GLC) and the leader of its Rural Law Initiative, will co-chair the task force. 

In April of this year, the GLC published a report on rural law practice in New York, which was based on a survey of rural attorneys conducted between August and October 2018. The research revealed the following illuminating trends: 

  • Most rural legal practices are comprised of solo practitioners or small practices of two to five attorneys.
  • Many rural attorneys are overwhelmed by the volume of cases, financial stress, and limited resources, among many other rural practice burdens.
  • Rural practitioners have trouble finding qualified attorneys to refer cases to and several high-needs practice areas have a shortage of experts.
  • Over half the attorneys surveyed are at retirement age or are soon approaching it.
  • Rural practice involves unique challenges, including due process issues related to non-attorney judges, inefficiencies in town justice courts, a lack of access to broadband, and a prevalence of indigent clients.  

One of the more alarming findings from the rural attorney survey confirmed the aging of the bar in rural New York, as 74.3% of respondents were 45 years old or older. This suggests that within 20 to 30 years, the great majority of current rural practitioners will be retired, further exacerbating the access to justice challenges in rural communities. The timeliness of the Task Force on Rural Justice is tantamount to addressing the anticipated crisis of this growing justice gap, especially as many report that few to no new attorneys are entering rural practice.  

The members of the Task Force on Rural Justice include rural practitioners, the judiciary, legal service organization leaders, and other invested stakeholders from across the state. The members include:

  • Andrew B. Ayers, director, GLC at Albany Law School
  • Hon. Julie A. Campbell, County Court, Cortland County
  • Scott Joseph Clippinger, Clippinger Law Offices, Smyrna
  • Heidi Dennis, Rural Law Center of New York, Inc., Plattsburgh
  • Christopher Denton, Denton Law Office, Elmira
  • Cynthia F. Feathers, New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services, Albany
  • Timothy J. Fennell, Amdursky, Pelky, Fennell & Wallen, Oswego
  • John Ferrara, Monticello
  • Hon. Molly Reynolds Fitzgerald, Supreme Court, Broome County, Binghamton
  • Daniel J. Fitzsimmons, Binghamton
  • Marcy I. Flores, Warren County Public Defender, Lake George
  • Sharon Stern Gerstman, Magavern Grimm, Buffalo
  • Sarah E. Gold, Albany
  • Taalib T. Horton, Stanclift Law, Queensbury
  • Richard C. Lewis, Hinman, Howard & Kattell, Binghamton
  • Joanne Macri, New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services, Albany
  • Martin J. McGuinness, Saratoga Springs
  • Hon. Thomas E. Mercure, Carter Conboy, Albany
  • Leah R. Nowotarski, Wyoming County Public Defender
  • Willa Skye Payne, Legal Services of Central New York, Inc., Oneonta
  • C. Kenneth Perri, Legal Assistance of Western New York, Geneva
  • Richard Rifkin, Delmar
  • Hon. Gary A. Rosa, Delaware County Family Court, New Kingston
  • Tucker C. Stanclift, Stanclift Law, Queensbury
  • Brian S. Stewart, Malone
  • Hon. Mary M. Tarantelli, Chemung County Family Court, Elmira
  • Robert M. Winn, Granville

Scott Fein, partner at Whiteman Osterman & Hanna and chair of the Albany Law School’s GLC Board of Advisors, will serve as liaison between the task force and the GLC.

NYSBA is deeply committed to making sure that New Yorkers across the state, including rural residents, have sufficient access to justice. The work of the Task Force on Rural Justice will inform our commitment to this principle, as well as our services and support of bar members that work tirelessly to serve our rural communities.   

 

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About the New York State Bar Association
The New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Since 1876, NYSBA has helped shape the development of law, educated and informed the legal profession and the public, and championed the rights of New Yorkers through advocacy and guidance in our communities.

Contact: Christian Nolan 
cnolan@nysba.org
518-487-5536