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Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye announced last Tuesday the creation of a commission to examine the difficulties facing solo and small firm practitioners in New York, a contingent that totals about 80 percent of lawyers in the state. Chaired by Rochester, N.Y., solo practitioner June Castellano, the 28-member panel is to provide a way for solo and small firm lawyers to have a voice in the rules and requirements established by the Office of Court Administration, Judge Kaye said. “So often we hear that we are not sufficiently sensitive to the needs of the small firm,” she said. “We have heard that we haven’t sufficiently considered the impact on those who are far and away the larger segment of lawyers.” Solo and small firm attorneys have cited increased filing fees, recent restrictions on fiduciary appointments, the logistics of meeting multiple court appearances and the court system’s emphasis on quicker dispositions as particularly troublesome to their practices. Higher filing fees implemented in July are an example of an issue in which more input from small firm lawyers would have been useful, Judge Kaye said. Last summer, court fees increased for several types of filings in State Supreme Court matters. Those changes included fees never before charged for all motions and cross motions, stipulations of settlement and voluntary discontinuances. Commission member Douglas J. Lerose, president of the Suffolk County Bar Association, said that higher expectations from clients and “added pressure” from the OCA for judges to move cases faster are problems for solo and small firm lawyers. “You’re constantly on a tightrope,” he said. “You’re trying to satisfy a lot of different needs.” The New York State Bar Association pushed for the creation of the committee, said A. Thomas Levin, the group’s president. “We’ve been very concerned for a long time about the impact that the OCA’s rules have” on solo and small firm attorneys, he said. “We don’t think they’ve been paying attention to that.” Especially detrimental to some small firms are the recent limitations on fiduciary appointments, he said. The changes, implemented in June, restrict law firms from receiving more than $50,000 in fees for fiduciary work in one calendar year and bar firms that employ political leaders from accepting appointments. The state bar group is working on a report that Levin said is expected to show that the availability of firms qualified to perform such work is “drying up” under the new restrictions. The commission has not established a meeting schedule yet, but Lerose said that he expects it to conduct its meetings by telephone conference call so practitioners can participate without having to leave their offices. The commission is made up of 12 lawyers from upstate and the western region, 12 from the New York City metropolitan area and four from Long Island. Judge Kaye said that in forming the body she wanted a group that was geographically and professionally diverse.

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