Steuben County facing difficult time recruiting and retaining attorneys


BATH, NY (WETM) – Recruitment and retention of attorneys has been a problem for years in Steuben County, according to Steuben County Manager Jack Wheeler.

The Public Defender’s Office, District Attorney’s Office, Social Services, and County Attorney all have positions facing difficulties filling positions.

Wheeler says that attorneys are very hard to come by these days, and he says there is a tremendous amount of competition to bring them into the area.

“If individuals didn’t grow up here or aren’t from here or have deep roots, we do have a bit of a retention issue because municipal governments can’t pay as much as others or that some individuals could make in private practice, so, it’s a serious recruitment issue,” Wheeler said. “We are not the only county facing it, we have many discussions with other counties and counterparts across the state and everyone is sort of in the same boat and we are competing for the same resources.”

Wheeler said that problem is about to get much worse.

“Through a lawsuit settlement with five counties in the state of New York to expand the number of public defenders that they offer and that are retained because caseload standards are coming down and other things,” Wheeler said. “We have a number of years to implement these but we are looking to be hiring in the next few years, not less.”

Steuben County District Attorney Brooks Baker echos Wheelers statements.

Finding and keeping qualified attorneys is a challenge.   Recent state mandates, criminal justice reform, bail reform, and changes in assigned criminal defense eligibility standards have worked together to dramatically increase the workload for DAs and Public Defenders…this is true for offices across the state.  Forcing us to compete for applicants.

Combine this with the dual realities of ever-increasing student loans (the average law school grad thus year carried $160,000 in student loan debt) and public sector salaries that are anywhere from 30 – 50% below private-sector numbers, and we find ourselves in a very difficult position.  More public employers competing for a shrinking pool of candidates with limited finances.

We have been very lucky in the DAs office to be able to find quality people to fill positions.

But we are going to have to be creative going forward….bringing in Attorney’s who might otherwise retire, utilizing part-time positions and enhanced recruiting of new graduates are all avenues we are pursuing.   Our Legislature and County Manager have been ahead of the curve in recognizing the issue and looking for solutions.  With their continued help and support, I am confident we will find creative ways to bring and keep people in our DA and PD offices, but it will be a perpetual challenge

DA Brooks Baker

One recruitment tool Wheeler is trying is an unofficial program where seasoned attorneys in the area will mentor new attorneys when they get here.

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