David Weschler To Retire As Head of Pro Bono Practice

The Legal Aid Society has announced that, effective July 1, 2009, David Weschler, Attorney-in-Charge of the Pro Bono Practice, is retiring from the Society and will pursue other interests. Mr. Weschler became the first Attorney-in-Charge of the Pro Bono Practice in 2004 after the Society reorganized into its current operational structure of Civil, Criminal, Juvenile Rights, and Pro Bono Practices.

Steven Banks, the Society’s Attorney-in-Chief, praised Mr. Weschler for his efforts to develop comprehensive pro bono programs to provide legal assistance for low income New Yorkers. “For many years, David Weschler has led the Society’s innovative partnerships with the private bar to expand access to justice in New York City. During this 30-year period, his name has been synonymous with The Legal Aid Society’s pro bono initiatives and we very grateful for all that has been accomplished in this important area of our client services,” Mr. Banks said.

Alan Levine, Chair of the Society’s Board of Directors, said “The Board of Directors greatly values the Society’s pro bono programs and we appreciate David Weschler’s contributions to these programs over the years.”

Theodore Levine, the President of the Society, said that “David Weschler has been an integral part of our successful pro bono efforts for an extended period of time and we wish him well.”

Mr. Banks said that prior to Mr. Weschler’s retirement The Legal Aid Society will conduct a search to fill the position of leading the pro bono program, which provides pro bono opportunities in the Civil, Criminal and Juvenile Rights Practices at the trial and appellate levels as well as in class action law reform matters.

As a young public interest lawyer in the mid-1970s, Mr. Weschler became Executive Director of Community Law Offices (CLO) in East Harlem, an organization that played a pioneering role in recruiting large numbers of volunteer lawyers into low income neighborhoods to work with the full-time CLO legal services staff. Mr. Weschler was instrumental in bringing about the establishment of the Volunteer Division as a result of the merger of Community Law Offices into the Society, and became the Division's Attorney-in-Charge.

For 25 years, the Volunteer Division continued to serve as a neighborhood civil office for upper Manhattan while becoming the engine for expansion of pro bono participation at the Society. Remaining a community lawyer, Mr. Weschler spearheaded innovative projects, among them: the HIV/AIDS Representation Project, representing families and individuals devastated by the AIDS epidemic; the Housing Development Unit, enabling low income tenant associations to renovate and acquire their buildings as low income tenant co-ops; the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic, assisting low income taxpayers in controversies before the IRS; and the Community Development Project, utilizing transactional lawyers to assist low income non-profit community groups and low income small businesses. The hallmark of these and other initiatives was their effectiveness in enlisting volunteer attorneys and their law firms in community service and pro bono partnerships with the Society and its staff.

In 2004, the Community Law Office became part of the Society’s city-wide Civil Practice, and the Society’s volunteer efforts were expanded to become the Pro Bono Practice which provides a broad range of opportunities for pro bono work in the Criminal and Juvenile Rights Practice areas in addition to the Civil Practice. In 2008, more than 2,000 volunteer lawyers and paralegals handled matters for The Legal Aid Society.

Looking back at his role as a public service lawyer, Mr. Weschler said he has been blessed to work with so many wonderful colleagues at The Legal Aid Society and at law firms and the bar. He sees the recent placements of associates and graduating law students with the Legal Aid Society through the new one-year law firm public interest externship programs as a further expansion of The Legal Aid Society’s unique public-private partnership that enormously benefits clients in legal need, as well as our professional staff and pro bono counsel, the Society and the law firm community, and the cause of equal justice.