The report and recommendations of the Task Force on Rural Justice, which includes loan repayment reforms, tuition assistance programs, relaxing residency requirements for public positions and raising hourly rates for assigned counsel, was adopted by NYSBA’s House of Delegates at its meeting April 4.
“Research suggests that nearly 75% of current rural lawyers will retire over the next three decades with few to no new attorneys ready to replace them,” said NYSBA President Hank Greenberg. “This disturbing trend would only further worsen the existing access-to-justice gap faced by our rural communities.
“NYSBA is deeply committed to ensuring that all New Yorkers, including rural residents, have sufficient access to justice and we are confident that the task force’s recommendations will provide the reforms necessary to stem the tide of this growing crisis,” Greenberg concluded.
The report recommends:
• Loan repayment and tuition assistance reforms, which would make rural practice more appealing by removing, or at least diminishing, the specter of student loan debt when establishing a practice or entering into governmental service in a rural area.
• Relaxing residency requirements for public positions. Residency requirements hurt rural areas as communities cannot attract qualified talent due to such restrictions, which the task force deems outdated and questionable.
• Raise hourly rates for assigned counsel, which are outlined in Article 18-B of the County Law §722-b. The last increase in assigned counsel rates was in 2004, when they were increased to $60 an hour for misdemeanors and lesser offenses, and $75 per hour for felonies and all other cases. Cases are also capped at $4,400.
• Raise the cap for small claims court to $10,000 from the current $5,000 for all town, city, village and district courts, and eliminate all filing fees for wills.
The report also discusses ways that broadband internet access should be expanded to rural areas to attract new attorneys and support more efficient rural practice. Additionally, it discusses how law schools can help address the rural justice crisis through clinics, internships, pro bono work and support of law students interested in rural practice.
Hon. Stan L. Pritzker, an associate justice on the Appellate Division, Third Department, and Taier Perlman, staff attorney at Legal Services of the Hudson Valley (previously led the Rural Law Initiative at Albany Law School’s Government Law Center), co-chaired the task force. Members of the task force included rural practitioners, the judiciary and legal service organization leaders.