Seymour James Named Head of The Legal Aid Society, Nation's Largest Legal Services Organization
TUESDAY, JULY 01, 2014
Seymour W. James, Jr.

New York - July 1, 2014 - Seymour W. James, Jr., the Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice and an internationally recognized expert in criminal justice, has been appointed the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society in New York City by a unanimous vote of the Board of Directors.

Mr. James, who has devoted his entire legal career of 40 years to ensuring that poor New Yorkers receive high quality representation, will head the nation's oldest and largest not-for-profit legal services organization with a staff of 1,100 lawyers and more than 700 social workers, investigators, paralegals and support and administrative staff. Annually, the Society handles more than 300,000 cases and legal matters for clients with civil, criminal, and juvenile rights problems. Its law reform work benefits an additional two million low-income New Yorkers.

"After a three month search process for a new Attorney-in-Chief in which we were blessed with a number of highly qualified applicants, the Search Committee and the Board of Directors concluded that Seymour was the best person to be the new leader of the Society," said Richard J. Davis, Chairman of the Board of Directors.

"Seymour has devoted his life to the cause of equal justice," said Blaine V. (Fin) Fogg, Society President. "He will be an outstanding Attorney-In-Chief. I look forward to working closely with him in his new role."

Mr. James joined The Legal Aid Society in 1974 as a staff attorney in the Brooklyn Office and has served in various supervisory capacities including Supervising Attorney in the Bronx County Office, Deputy Attorney-in-Charge of the Kings County and Queens County Offices and Attorney-in-Charge of the Queens County Office. Mr. James was the first attorney of color to head a borough trial office in the Criminal Practice as well as the first attorney of color appointed as the Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice. In the 10 years he has served as the Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice, the largest public defender organization in the country and the primary indigent defender in the City, the Society's Criminal Practice has earned a national reputation for excellence. His expertise on effective legal aid delivery systems is sought on an international level. He has just returned from speaking at an international conference in South Africa on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems. The conference was hosted by the Republic of South Africa, the International Legal Foundation, Legal Aid South Africa, the United Nations Development Programme, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

"The Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, UAW Local 2325, is excited to have Seymour James as The Legal Aid Society's new Attorney-in-Chief," said Deborah L. Wright, President of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys. "With 40 plus years of service, Seymour knows the issues that face our clients, as well as the issues our members face in trying to meet the ever increasing need for our services. The Legal Aid Society must continue to move forward to expand on our mission that no New Yorker should be denied access to justice because of poverty, and we have every confidence that Seymour is that person. Congratulations Seymour. ALAA stands ready to work with you.

A leader of the organized Bar and a Past President of the New York State Bar Association, Mr. James's dedication to public services extends beyond his role at the Society and his numerous bar association activities. He has been selected to serve on important commissions on a City and State level. He served on the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption. He is a member of the New York State Justice Task Force which studies instances where defendants were wrongfully convicted of crimes and recommends measures to avoid such mistakes in the future. He also serves on the Committee on Character and Fitness for the Second Judicial Department and the New York State Permanent Sentencing Commission. He previously served on the Departmental Disciplinary Committee for the First Judicial Department, the Task Force on the Future of Probation in New York State, and the Independent Judicial Election Qualification Commission for the 11th Judicial District. He was recently appointed as the representative of indigent defenders to Mayor DeBlasio's Task Force on Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice System which will develop a plan to address the needs of individuals in the criminal justice system with behavioral and mental health issues more appropriately and effectively.

He currently serves on the Executive Committee of the State Bar's Criminal Justice Section and on the State Bar's Committee on Leadership Development. Mr. James has held leadership positions in other bar associations. He serves as a member of the American Bar Association House of Delegates and on the ABA's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary and Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants. He is also a former President of the Queens County Bar Association and was the first attorney of color to hold that position. In addition, he served on the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association.

Mr. James is also active in other public interest organizations. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Correctional Association of New York and the New York State Defenders Association and a member of the Chief Defender Council and the Defender Policy Group of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. He is the former chair of the Queens Volunteer Lawyers Project and a former member of the board of directors of the Osborne Association, Bedford Stuyvesant Community Legal Services Corporation and Queens Legal Services Corporation.

A native of Brooklyn, who was raised in Queens, New York, Mr. James graduated from Stuyvesant High School, obtained an undergraduate degree in economics from Brown University and earned his law degree from Boston University School of Law.

Mr. James has served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at CUNY Law School and on the faculty of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law Intensive Trial Advocacy Program.

He is married to the Honorable Cheryl E. Chambers, an Associate Justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department. They reside in Brooklyn and have three children: Christopher, Cheryl Allison and Carole.

James Named to Lead Legal Aid Society
New York Law Journal
Andrew Keshner, New York Law Journal
July 2, 2014

Seymour James Jr. has been chosen to lead the Legal Aid Society in New York City, capping a 40-year legal career involved in indigent representation at the organization.

Legal Aid announced James as the new attorney-in-chief today, elevating him from his longtime role as attorney-in-charge of criminal matters to head an organization with a $230 million annual budget that handles more than 300,000 cases and legal matters annually and employs 1,100 attorneys and more than 700 social workers.

James, a past president of the New York State Bar Association, succeeds Steven Banks, who was Legal Aid's top attorney for 10 years before becoming commissioner of the New York City Human Resources Administration in March.

James, 66, said that becoming attorney-in-chief was not something he imagined when he was starting out, or even after Banks left, but that the appointment was a "nice culmination to a career."

According to James, Banks left the organization "very sound fiscally and structurally." He said he saw his new job as a continuation and expansion of Banks' work.

James said he wanted to continue providing comprehensive criminal, juvenile and civil representation but "there's more we can do in communities."

For example, James said he wanted to increase "know your rights" programming to educate residents on the rights and remedies they have in both civil and legal matters.

He said he would like to undertake a strategic planning process in which the organization would look at how it delivered services and where there was room for improvement. The review would not be a reaction to perceived shortcomings but would be the type of examination that was healthy for any organization to do periodically, said James.

Richard J. Davis. chairman of Legal Aid's board and search committee, said the search process began by reaching out to nearly 500 people for their thoughts on applicants, "We were looking for somebody who demonstrated commitment to the mission, who was a strong leader, who was respected in the justice system and the legal community and somebody who we thought could be a effective manager."

James fit that bill, he said.

There was "no question of [James'] commitment to the mission of" indigent representation, said Davis, noting James had the managerial skills to lead the criminal practice and the state bar, and had become highly respected both inside and outside the organization.

James' successor as attorney-in-charge of the criminal practice has not yet been named and appliations for the position are being sought. James held the position for nine years.

After Banks' departure, the organization convened a search committee made up of board members, staffers and union leadership.

The committee received more than 20 resumés, none from other Legal Aid staffers, and brought in seven individuals for interviews.

Both the committee and the board unanimously supported James.

Davis said the committee and the board were "absolutely willing" to bring in someone from outside the organization if deemed to be the best person for the job.

"We didn't. We thought he'd be the best," said Davis.