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The House of Delegates of the New York State Bar Association recently adopted a report advocating various measures to help alleviate shortages of legal services in rural communities. Attorneys and students from the Government Law Center at Albany Law School were instrumental in the creation of the report.
In the spring of 2019, the Government Law Center issued a report describing in detail the inability of residents of New York State's rural communities to obtain legal assistance due to the paucity of lawyers in these regions. Hank Greenberg, who was about to take office as Association president, read the report and, noting his concern, appointed a task force to develop possible solutions to this serious problem. Taier Perlman, who had led the work of the Law Center in this area, was appointed as co-chair of the Task Force. Ava Ayers and Richard Rifkin were appointed as members. Several students helped with research throughout the process.
The report adopted as policy by the Association included as recommendations loan repayment reforms, tuition assistance programs, relaxing residency requirements for public positions, and raising hourly rates for assigned counsel. The report suggested that these benefits should be available to attorneys who commit to serve in rural areas of the state. Basically, they would help to overcome some of the problems now faced by young attorneys who might be interested in serving in these areas.
“I’m proud of this report, and grateful to the State Bar Association for the opportunity to serve on the Rural Justice Task Force,” said Professor Ava Ayers, director of the Government Law Center. “People in rural communities depend on legal services for everything from running a business to managing their healthcare and writing their will, and the inability to access affordable legal services can turn minor problems into catastrophes. This report proposes solutions that can help.”
The efforts and interest behind the creation of this latest report were kickstarted by a first-of-its-kind GLC survey and subsequent report issued in 2019 about understanding the realities of rural legal practice in New York State.
Spearheaded by Taier Perlman, former Staff Attorney at the GLC where she led the Rural Law Initiative, and with support from data scientists at the Center for Human Services Research at the University at Albany, the Government Law Center conducted a survey of rural attorneys between August and October 2018. The results—both empirical and qualitative—revealed a number of significant legal trends in rural New York counties:
That research was funded by SUNY Cobleskill’s Institute for Rural Vitality.