NYCLA's Innovative Pro Bono Programs
This month, I'd like to focus on NYCLA's Pro Bono Department, which has offered diverse programs for more than 20 years to individuals who have nowhere else to turn. Funding from the IOLA (Interest on Lawyer Account) Fund has helped NYCLA fulfill its mission of providing free legal services to low-income individuals. Moreover, in response to the economic downturn, which has resulted in consumer debt cases overwhelming court dockets, I'm proud to say that NYCLA has launched new programs to meet the needs of pro se defendants.
As I mentioned in last month's column, these programs are by no means a substitute for publicly funded indigent defense in either criminal or civil cases involving fundamental rights and interests. The ABA endorsed "civil Gideon " just a few weeks ago in a resolution sponsored by NYCLA and a number of other bar associations. Nevertheless, given the state of the economy, volunteer efforts by lawyers are currently, and will for the foreseeable future continue to be, more necessary than ever. Those of us who have done this work find it interesting, challenging and satisfying. So I urge readers to sign up, take the necessary training and get involved.
Two Pro Bono Programs Assist Unrepresented Litigants in Civil Court
Advocates estimate that over 95 percent of consumers have to defend themselves in Civil Court debt-collection cases. To assist these unrepresented litigants, NYCLA, in partnership with the Civil Court of New York County, launched the Consumer Debt Volunteer Lawyer for the Day Project , which has provided free consultations to 245 self-represented debtor-defendants in Civil Court since it began in January 2010. In addition, since 2008, NYCLA's Manhattan CLARO (Civil Legal Advice and Resource Office) Project has also responded to the overwhelming needs of unrepresented debtors sued by their creditors in New York County Civil Court. Since its inception, Manhattan CLARO volunteers have seen more than 700 individuals, with 179 volunteer lawyers and law students having given over 1,162 hours of their time to the program. Sixty-six of those volunteers were NYCLA members and the rest were Fordham Law School students and volunteers from legal services providers. CLARO operates in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx.
Other Pro Bono Programs
Volunteers for Project Restore, which began in 2008, represent previously incarcerated individuals denied employment licenses because they have a criminal record. Thus far, attorneys have assisted 53 clients and in July, 11 attorneys were trained to work on an ever increasing caseload. This is another program that makes a real difference in peoples' lives and fills a previously unmet need.
The Legal Counseling Project , NYCLA's oldest and most popular volunteer opportunity, provides free weekly counseling to individuals in the areas of family, employment, consumer bankruptcy and landlord/tenant law. In the past nine months, volunteer attorneys met with more than 650 individuals. There is a two-part training for members interested in participating in the program on September 14 and 21.
Finally, NYCLA's newest initiative, launching in October, is the Tax Court Bar-Related Pro Bono Program, which will provide assistance to unrepresented persons appearing before the United States Tax Court. NYCLA is the first bar association in New York to offer a Tax Court Pro Bono Program. The program will provide advice and assistance to low-income, otherwise unrepresented, taxpayers who have disputes with the Internal Revenue Service. The volunteer tax practitioners previously admitted to the Tax Court will consult with pro se petitioners, provide procedural advice and act as communicators or mediators between the parties. A training session will be held on September 16 and the project will be up and running for the October calendar call.
As with all of NYCLA's pro bono programs, volunteer lawyers, who are covered under NYCLA's malpractice insurance policy, must be NYCLA members in good standing and meet additional requirements specific to each project. NYCLA provides thorough training and supervision and offers MCLE credits to participants who complete the project requirements. To register or for further information about any of these programs, call Lois Davis, director of Pro Bono Programs, at 212-267-6646, ext. 217 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
NYCLA remains faithful to its commitment to assuring access to justice for the poor and disadvantaged, and encourages its members to consider volunteering on one or more of these worthwhile programs. We invite you to join NYCLA and volunteer your time, talent and tenacity.
By James B. Kobak, Jr.
Source: The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel