Letter From The President Of The New York County Lawyers' Association

2009-06-30 00:00

To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:

Now is the time for all good lawyers to come to the aid of their neighbors. We have seen the number of foreclosure filings and consumer credit cases explode over the last year. According to The New York Times, "Lawyers, judges and tenant advocates say the staggering economy has sent an increasing number of middle-class renters across New York City to the brink of eviction, straining the legal and financial services of city agencies and charities. . . . Overall, court records show that the number of cases filed citywide for nonpayment of rent jumped about 19 percent in the first two months of 2009 from the same period last year, to 42,257 from 35,588." This translates into more than 250,000 eviction cases annually.

Recently, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and Mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote to bar leaders, seeking their assistance in increasing pro bono participation by lawyers in order to mitigate the effects of the recession. They wrote:

In an unprecedented effort, the City and the New York State Office of Court Administration will partner with local bar associations, pro bono organizations, legal services providers and law schools to increase the number of volunteer attorneys available to provide assistance in four key areas: foreclosure, eviction, immigration and consumer credit. Whether you are fully employed, retired, recently laid off or deferring employment, there is a place for you at this "table."

The New York County Lawyers' Association is proud to be part of this effort. NYCLA administers a number of pro bono programs that address three of the four "key areas" identified by the Mayor and Chief Judge:

• Mortgage Foreclosure Project - Mandatory settlement conferences are a new, integral component of the foreclosure process for subprime loans. Our pro bono attorneys undertake a limited representation of Bronx County homeowners at their mandatory settlement conferences. The attorneys are not required to take on representation for the entire foreclosure proceeding, but only in connection with the settlement conference.

• Manhattan CLARO (Civil Legal Advice and Resource Office) - CLARO provides advice-only pro bono assistance to pro se litigants with consumer debt matters in Civil Court. Low- and moderate-income New Yorkers have a pressing need for legal assistance on a host of consumer law issues, particularly consumer debt. Consumer debt cases have inundated the Civil Court; the docket has grown exponentially (now accounting for the largest portion of Civil Court matters), having more than doubled in the last five years. Civil Court consumer cases can be overwhelming for pro se litigants; for example, many litigants learn of the suit after their wages have already been garnished or their bank accounts frozen.

• Legal Counseling Project - Provides counseling to clients three times a month on an appointment-only basis in the areas of family, employment, consumer bankruptcy and landlord/tenant law. No representation of any kind is undertaken. Many clients are prepared during these sessions - typically lasting 30-45 minutes each - for pro se representation; referrals are made to a variety of sources if the volunteer attorney determines that legal representation is necessary or desirable. Mentors, who are experts in the four subject areas, are present or available by telephone on each night to assist the volunteer attorneys.

It's said that ignorance of the law is no excuse. This is also true in the pro bono arena. NYCLA programs provide training and mentors, so even if you - like me - do not practice in any of these subject areas, you can still help people who are in desperate need of assistance. Please be part of the solution.

For further information about pro bono opportunities, contact Lois Davis, Director of Pro Bono Programs, at 212-267-6646, ext. 217 or ldavis@nycla.org.


Ann B. Lesk