The Legal Aid Society is the oldest and largest not-for-profit organization in the United States providing free legal services for clients who cannot afford to pay for counsel. During 2008, with a staff of some 1,400 - including nearly 850 lawyers and 600 social workers, investigators, paralegals, and support and administrative staff - the Society handled 295,00 legal matters for clients with civil, criminal, or juvenile rights legal problems. The Society provides legal services through a network of borough, neighborhood, and courthouse offices in 25 locations in all five counties of New York City.
The Legal Aid Society has a comprehensive city-wide legal services program for clients. The Society's legal program operates three major practices - Civil, Criminal, and Juvenile Rights. The Society's pro bono program supports the work of these practice areas. Each practice area provides advice and counsel and legal representation in individual client cases and law reform legal advocacy to groups of similarly situated clients when such representation is more effective to address systemic client problems. Society staff members represent clients at literally every level of the State and federal trial and appellate courts as well as in State and federal administrative proceedings.
The Civil Practice represents low-income families and individuals in legal matters involving housing, benefits, disability, domestic violence, family issues, health, employment, immigration, HIV/AIDS, prisoners' rights and elderlaw. The Criminal Practice provides representation in criminal trials and appeals as well as parole revocation defense hearings. The Juvenile Rights Practice provides representation for children who appear before the Family Court in matters involving child protective proceedings, juvenile delinquency, and PINS (people in need of supervision) and in appellate cases involving children.
Based on the experience and expertise of the staff, the Society is frequently asked to testify before federal, State, and City Council legislative committees and comment on federal, State, and City regulations and procedures. The Society also operates extensive "know your rights" community outreach programs for clients and community-based organizations as well as Continuing Legal Education programs for Society staff, pro bono volunteers, and the legal community in general.
More than 1,000 volunteer lawyers and paralegals from leading private law firms and corporate law departments are participating in the Society's pro bono program that further leverages the Society's resources to enable greater numbers of clients to receive legal assistance. The Society's pro bono program focuses on partnering teams of Legal Aid lawyers handling particular kinds of cases throughout the Civil, Juvenile Rights, and Criminal Practices with groups of private attorneys at 70 law offices that have set up pro bono projects in those same areas.
Government funds the constitutionally mandated representation of New Yorkers charged with criminal conduct that the Society's Criminal Practice provides and the constitutionally mandated representation of children in Family Court when they are the subject of abuse and neglect or juvenile delinquency proceedings that the Society's Juvenile Rights Practice provides. Aside from some targeted government funding for special Civil programs, the Civil Practice is largely dependant on private funding for client services. In all three practice areas, securing adequate resources is a challenge each year.
The Legal Aid Society, one of the largest non-profits in New York city, is a tax exempt, 501 (c) (3) organization, and has been classified under Section 501 (a) of the Internal Revenue Code as a publicly supported charitable organization.
The Legal Aid Society is assigned by the Court to represent clients in the Criminal and Juvenile Rights Practices. The Court, in those cases, determines eligibility.
In the Civil Practice, the federal Department of Health and Human Services Poverty Guidelines are used to determine eligibility for service.
The Legal Aid Society's Civil Practice uses one practice-wide standard for financial eligibility. Clients with incomes at or below 125% of the federal poverty level, which is adjusted annually, are financially eligible. This is referred to as the Gross Income Limit. Clients with incomes at or below 200% of the poverty level may be represented if they fall within one of the exceptions listed below, and if a supervising attorney authorizes assistance by signing a Financial Eligibility Exception form.
There are some exceptions to these income eligibility guidelines, including the Brooklyn Office for the Aging, the Health Law Unit and the Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic. The Brooklyn Office for the Aging receives government funding to provide services to individuals aged 60 and over without regard to income. The office does consider income and resource issues in making priority decisions. Likewise, the Society's Health Law Unit receives discrete funding to provide managed care consumer advocacy and Medicare D advocacy services to New Yorkers in need, regardless of income. Finally, the Society's Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) receives discrete City funding to provide legal assistance to taxpayers whose incomes do not exceed 250% of the federal poverty level. LITC also receives funding from the Internal Revenue Service which requires that 90 percent of clients represented have incomes that do not exceed 250% of poverty.