Government Law Center’s Rural Law Initiative Releases First-of-Its-Kind New Report on Rural Law Practice in New York State

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Government Law Center's Rural Law Initiative

Summarizing responses to a survey of rural New York practitioners, the report breaks new ground in understanding trends and needs in rural communities

The Government Law Center at Albany Law School released today Rural Law Practice in New York State of more than 900 rural lawyers in upstate New York. The survey was undertaken by the Government Law Center's Rural Law Initiative in partnership with the Center for Human Services Research at the University at Albany and SUNY Cobleskill's Institute for Rural Vitality.

While the shortage of legal services in rural communities is generally known, there is limited data on the extent and nature of the problem. This report aims to quantify the shortage of legal services in New York's rural counties. The data contained in the report will inform the work of policy makers, advocates, and bar associations. Additionally, attorneys can use it to determine market trends to build or expand their practices.

The report is organized around three key issues identified in the survey: what rural practices are like; the nature of access-to-justice gaps in rural communities; and how rural practice and systemic burdens impact efficient delivery of legal services in rural New York counties.

The major findings include:

  • Many rural attorneys are overwhelmed by 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.
  • Over half the attorneys surveyed are at retirement age or are soon approaching it.
  • Several high-needs practice areas have a shortage of experts.
  • 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.

As the access-to-justice gap continues to grow in rural communities, the Government Law Center has produced this report to highlight this issue and inspire creative multi-stakeholder solutions. Additionally, this report implicitly spotlights the admirable public service of current rural attorneys who support their communities and clients under tremendous challenges.