As a result of the economic downturn, many leading law firms have developed innovative Public Interest Fellowship Programs that offer incoming and mid-level associates the opportunity to volunteer for up to one year with public interest organizations In response, The Legal Aid Society has developed an Externship Program that has accepted a class of 33 associates to date. Beginning in the Fall of 2009, these externs will be volunteering with all three of the Legal Aid Society’s practice areas - Civil, Criminal Defense, Juvenile Rights - and will be located in four of the City’s five boroughs.
The Civil Practice will have the largest number of externs. These externs will expand the capacity to provide legal services during a time of reduced funding and increasing need for civil legal assistance. Twenty externs will be working in a diverse range of units: Eviction Prevention and Sustainable Housing, the largest Civil practice area; Consumer Law/Predatory Lending; the Prisoners’ Rights Project; Immigration; Health Law; Family Law/Domestic Violence; and Employment Law. They come from a wide range of firms: Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP; DLA Piper; Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo PC; Morrison & Foerster LLP; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP; Proskauer Rose LLP; Ropes & Gray LLP; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP; Troutman Sanders LLP; Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP; and White & Case LLP.
The Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Defense Practice, the largest public defender program in the country, will add nine externs to its incoming Fall ’09 class. These volunteers will be working at the criminal defense trial and appeals level and will partake fully in the Criminal Defense Practice’s new lawyer training. The firms participating are Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP; Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP; Shearman & Sterling LLP; Sidley Austin LLP; Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP; and White & Case LLP. The Brooklyn office of the Juvenile Rights Practice also will welcome an extern from Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP in October of 2009, and our General Counsel’s office will be joined by an associate from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP as a Corporate Counsel Extern.
The Legal Aid Society continues to accept applications on a rolling basis, and looks forward to expanding this new Pro Bono partnership with New York City’s leading law firms. If you are interested in learning more about The Legal Aid Society’s Externship Program and the opportunities available for associates at your firm, please contact the Pro Bono Practice by emailing Katie Niejadlik, Pro Bono Administrator, at KANiejadlik@legal-aid.org.
Thanks to the efforts of Cleary Gottlieb, whose attorneys partnered with The Legal Aid Society’s Community Development Project that included Brooke Connell, an extern from Fried Frank Harris, Shriver, & Jacobson LLP (“Fried Frank”), an incredibly hard-working low-income Mexican family realized their dream of owning and operating their own business. This immigrant-owned micro-enterprise, Quechol Products Inc., created nine new jobs in Williamsburg and put a low-income family in an ownership position and on the path to economic self-sufficiency.
Cleary Gottlieb associates Katherine F. Schulte and Gina Rebollar, Fried Frank extern Brooke Connell, retired corporate counsel Richard Nesson, and Rolando Gonzalez, staff attorney with The Legal Aid Society’s Community Development Project, provided corporate and tax counsel, as well as extensive assistance with financing, licensing, permits, and construction-related matters.
The Grand Opening of Quechol Products Inc., located at 310 Graham Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, was celebrated by family, friends, and this stellar legal team. Ambassador Ruben Beltran, General Consul of Mexico, and Guillermo Linares, Commissioner of the Mayor's Office Of Immigrant Affairs, attended the grand opening along with the Cleary Gottleib pro bono team and its partners from The Legal Aid Society.
Pro Bono Partnership established with Dechert LLP, Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP; Seyfarth Shaw LLP; and Venable LLP
On March 26, 2008, The New York City Council enacted Local Law 10, which prohibits landlords from refusing to lease, rent, or sell housing to individuals whose income is comprised of benefits received from the government or other sources, such as Social Security, veteran’s benefits, welfare, pension funds, and Section 8. This amendment to the New York City Human Rights Law was necessitated by discriminatory practices - as apartment advertisements including statements such as “no programs allowed” or “working people only” - employed by landlords against low-income New Yorkers.
Shortly thereafter, tenants began contacting The Legal Aid Society to report that landlords were continuing to refuse rental subsidies. Many of the tenants, a number of whom had waited as long as 15 years for Section 8 vouchers, were elderly or single mothers who paid 60 to 80 percent of their income towards rent. Others were forced to use their entire income for rent, seeking additional funds from financially stressed family or friends.
After taking on over 90 such cases, The Legal Aid Society had exhausted its limited resources. The Legal Aid Society then established a pro bono partnership with Dechert; Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler; Seyfarth Shaw, and Venable to represent existing tenants with Section 8 vouchers who are being harmed by their landlords’ discriminatory practices. Dechert, under the direction of Thomas Munno, Managing Partner of the law firm's New York office, took on a leadership role through the representation of nineteen clients. The Patterson firm (associates Claude Platton and Nicholas Suplina) took on some of the more complicated cases, litigating a preliminary injunction motion based on retaliation before a New York State Supreme Court Judge. All of the firms’ attorneys had the opportunity to develop their litigation skills in New York State Supreme Court and to ensure that vulnerable tenants were not discriminated against based on their source of income.
Jason Lichter and Cecilia ("Sas") Silver, supervised by Vernon Broderick, won a resounding victory for an abused inmate who was beaten brutally by five corrections officers at the Fishkill Correctional Facility. The beating occurred while the prisoner was handcuffed and resulted in at least 12 medically documented injuries to his face, jaw, abdomen, and back. The Legal Aid Society, which had been contacted by the prisoner, referred the case to Weil Gotshal and provided mentoring through its Prisoners' Rights Project.
Upon receiving the case, the Weil team successfully argued before U.S. District Court Judge P. Kevin Castel that the prisoner was tricked into signing a stipulation of discontinuance and that dismissal of his pro se complaint should be deemed a voluntary dismissal without prejudice to refile. Weil attorneys then timely filed a new complaint, deposed all five defendants, the Fishkill captain (a.k.a. the warden), and the nurse who treated the inmate after the beating, and defeated defendant’s motion for summary judgment. Mr. Lichter and Ms. Silver acted as lead counsel during the four-day trial in which the jury found all of the defendants liable and awarded the inmate $200,000 in compensatory damages and $550,000 in punitive damages. Judge Castel, an active participant during trial, commended the lawyers on their representation and praised Vernon Broderick for his outstanding supervision of the trial team. The Weil trial team also included associates Bert Mayer, Alex Khachaturian, and Tashanna Pearson, paralegals Patrick Mills and Gareth Mandel, and trial graphics professionals Jorge Martorell and John Ko.
On May 1, 2009, Kaye Scholer LLP was recognized by The New York State Bar Association for the firm’s exceptional commitment to pro bono, as evidenced by the attorneys in the New York office in 2008 performing 27,115 hours of pro bono work – an average of 79 hours per attorney. Through its summer and first year associates’ programs, the firm consistently has provided outstanding representation to disabled low-income New Yorkers who were denied Social Security Disability benefits. During the past year alone, they successfully represented 25 clients referred by The Legal Aid Society. Working with The Legal Aid Society’s Parole Revocation Unit, the firm initiated Article 78 and Writs of Habeas Corpus petitions on behalf of 18 clients who were subjected to an illegally imposed period of post-release supervision. In addition to these individual cases, Kaye Scholer, under the leadership of its former Chair David Klingsberg, filed an amicus brief to the Court of Appeals that supported The Legal Aid Society’s direct appeal and successfully argued that non-judicially entered post release supervision is constitutionally and statutorily infirm and cannot be corrected by a clerk merely listing it in the commitment order. This was a sweeping victory, prohibiting the administrative, non-judicial imposition of post-release supervision. Kaye Scholer also made a major commitment of pro bono business and transactional legal expertise to 126 non-profits that had a myriad of legal issues. This vast array of non profits included charter schools participating in a legal audit, a grant-making entity that provides fellowships to start-up nonprofits committed to social entrepreneurship, programs that offer services to youth involved with the criminal justice system, support groups for families with special education needs, and long-standing settlement houses in need of general counsel legal services. Kaye Scholer’s dedication to pro bono and its impact on the lives of low-income New Yorkers made it an outstanding recipient of the 2009 New York State Bar Association President’s large law firm pro bono services award.
In response to the real estate market’s economic downturn and its consequences for low-income homeowners, Latham & Watkins LLP decided to expand the real estate practice’s pro bono work. The firm’s expertise became the perfect complement to the legal services being provided by The Legal Aid Society’s Community Development Project’s (“CDP”) Adopt-A-Coop Pro Bono program. The new partnership was kicked off with a training, attended by more than 45 Latham attorneys, on “Creation and Preservation of Low-Income HDFC Housing Cooperatives” and presented by the CDP’s knowledgeable staff – Stephen Falla-Riff and Rolando Gonzalez.
Under the leadership of Frederic Glassman, the firm’s attorneys have been working on a variety of matters that will help create and maintain affordable housing in Upper Manhattan. Their review of construction loan re-financing documents for two low-income co-ops will help create 90 units of affordable housing and their assistance to an HDFC to develop a re-sale policy that complies with the law will add additional affordable units to the Harlem community. Latham’s attorneys also plan to assist in drafting and negotiating commercial leases that will create viable commercial spaces vital to low income cooperatives paying off tax arrears and enabling them to maintain 49 affordable housing units in one building and 32 residential and 5 commercial units in another.
Latham & Watkins’ pro bono work is making an immeasurable impact in a practice area underserved by pro bono counsel. The Legal Aid Society looks forward to the firm’s continued and growing partnership to preserve affordable housing in New York City’s poorest communities.
Continuing a more than 20 year tradition, the 2009 Summer Associate class from New York City’s leading law firms collectively have represented more than 35 physically and/or mentally disabled low-income New Yorkers seeking Social Security Income Disability benefits and have worked to prevent the eviction of 22 New York City Housing Authority tenants. This partnership with eight participating law firms - Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP, Kaye Scholer LLP, O’Melveny & Myers LLP, Shearman & Sterling LLP, and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP & Affiliates - expands The Legal Aid Society Civil Practice’s capacity to provide legal services to indigent clients and exposes the next generation of private attorneys to the benefits of pro bono work. In addition, summer associates from Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz and Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP have provided pro bono support through two-week externships at the Legal Aid Society’s Law Reform and Special Litigation Units.
After attending The Legal Aid Society’s Pro Bono training program, “Representing Clients with HIV/AIDS”, Peter Brensilver, a senior associate with Sidley Austin LLP, reached out to The Society about creating an HIV/AIDS pro bono project at the firm. James Arden, the New York chair of the firm’s Pro Bono and Public Interest Law Committee, endorsed the idea and was instrumental in the establishment of a new partnership between Sidley Austin and The Legal Aid Society’s HIV/AIDS Representation Project (“HARP”) in the Civil Practice's Harlem Community Law Office.
A “kick-off” training was conducted at the firm by Diane LaGamma, the senior HARP staff attorney who acts as the project’s point person.
Sidley’s attorneys began to attend monthly intake, with HARP staff attorney Edwin Vega, at St. Luke’s/Roosevelt Hospital’s Samuels Clinic. They quickly became familiar with all aspects of the practice, which assists persons living with the HIV/AIDS virus with a wide-range of legal issues: privacy and confidentiality; Social Security Disability advocacy; preservation of housing; loan forgiveness; wills and estate planning; and resolution of matrimonial and family conflicts. Volunteers have accepted a varied menu of cases, including a Social Security Disability hearing on behalf of a clinically depressed man and a divorce action that will enable the client to register his companion as a domestic partner and secure her tenancy on the apartment lease.
On July 1, 2009, David Weschler, Attorney-in-Charge of the Pro Bono Practice, retired The Legal Aid Society to 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.”
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.