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Justice Elizabeth Garry. Photo: Courtesy of Albany Law School Justice Elizabeth Garry. Photo: Courtesy of Albany Law School

As some of you may recall, last year I used this space to address access to justice in rural communities. This year, I wish to share an update, with focus upon the related and ongoing effort to implement a court simplification plan—an issue that has been discussed for decades, which will hopefully progress into action now.

Last summer, New York State Bar Association President Henry Greenberg created the Task Force on Rural Justice to study the state of rural law practice in New York State and recommend reforms to support rural practitioners and improve access to justice in rural communities. New York State Bar Association, Press Release: New York State Bar Association to Examine the State of Rural Law Practice in New York (July 2, 2019). This Task Force is co-chaired by my Third Department colleague, the Honorable Stan Pritzker, and Taier Perlman, Esq., a past leader of the Albany Law School Government Law Center’s Rural Law Initiative, now serving as a staff attorney with Legal Services of the Hudson Valley. The Task Force set out to study troubling trends in rural law practice and make recommendations to address a mounting crisis, as identified in a survey and report made by the Government Law Center (GLC). The survey had revealed that many rural attorneys feel overwhelmed by the volume of cases they are asked to handle, encounter financial stress due to some clients’ inability to pay their fees in full, experience pressure to provide representation in a wide variety of practice areas and courts, feel professionally isolated, and face difficulty in finding specialists for referrals when they are not prepared to handle a particular type of matter. See Taier Perlman, Albany Law School Government Law Center Report: Rural Law Practice in New York State (April 2019). However, along with the challenges of rural practice, the attorneys surveyed also shared their deep appreciation for the gratifying nature of practicing law in a small community, and the quality of life they enjoy in a rural setting.

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