Letter from the President of the New York County Lawyers' Association

2015-11-12 16:55
Is Civil Gideon* becoming more of an ideal and less of a reality?

(Blog Post from Carol A. Sigmond, president, New York County Lawyers Association, November 4, 2015)

Our justice system is an adversary system; it works best when all parties have equal access to quality legal representation. But more than our justice system is based on the adversary system; our benefit and administrative law systems are similarly premised. Today, only the well-to-do can afford lawyers, yet the need for lawyers is in inverse proportion to the ability to pay and Civil Gideon* is more remote than ever. 

In the absence of an overall U.S. commitment to providing counsel to those who need it in administrative and other types of civil proceedings, particularly with the government, lawyers have been volunteering their time to fill the need. Volunteer lawyers act out of a love of the law and the desire to provide some measure of justice for all our fellow New Yorkers. This is what we do and who we are, we as a profession are the champions of the oppressed and the less fortunate.  

NYCLA takes this commitment seriously; we want to provide the best possible service in our pro bono programs. For this reason NYCLA provides mentors and training to our volunteers without whom these programs would not be possible. NYCLA has been providing pro bono opportunities to its members for more than 20 years, helping connect members to volunteer opportunities and to fuel this commitment.

Through the support of dedicated volunteer attorneys, mentors and trainers, NYCLA’s pro bono projects have provided direct assistance to approximately 1,700 individuals this past year. We are proud of the outstanding work done by all the attorneys volunteering in our pro bono projects. We realize our success would not be possible without them, and we extend our gratitude. We are confident that with your continued support, NYCLA will change even more lives in the years to come. What follows is a sampling of our current roster of pro bono opportunities. Most of these opportunities require that you be a NYCLA member and that you be admitted to the bar for at least one year, and some of the programs require that you attend a training program in order to participate.  If you are a law student or a law graduate not yet admitted to the bar, and you are interested in participating in this project, please contact the director of Pro Bono Programs, Lois Davis, at LDavis@nycla.org.

NYCLA’s Legal Counseling Project gives the public the opportunity to meet one-on-one with an attorney to discuss their legal problems and explore options and solutions. The Legal Counseling Project provides counseling to individuals in the areas of family, employment and landlord/tenant law.

The Manhattan CLARO Project addresses the needs of unrepresented debtors who are being sued by their creditors by providing pro se litigants the opportunity to meet with an attorney to discuss their case and obtain limited legal advice on how to best represent themselves. I would like to take a moment to thank Judge Fern Fisher for recognizing NYCLA’s participation in this program at the court’s consumer debt program on October 14, 2015.

The State Central Registry Project provides counsel and representation to individuals who seek to amend, seal or expunge indicated reports from the New York State Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment.

The U.S. Tax Court Calendar Call Project provides legal assistance to those unrepresented pro se petitioners at calendar call in both small tax cases and regular tax cases. This project was originally developed by our current vice president, Steve Lessard of Orrick Herrington and Sutcliffe

The Unemployment Insurance Advocacy Project provides legal assistance to New Yorkers who have lost their job and whose right to unemployment insurance benefits is being challenged.

Project Restore provides assistance to individuals with misdemeanor and felony convictions who are denied vocational licenses by the New York Department of State. This unique program provides representation for applicants whose adjudicated criminal history predates the employment license application and is the basis for the denial.


*The term “civil Gideon” refers to strategies and programs developed by the legal community to provide legal counsel, as a right and at public expense, to low-income persons involved in civil legal proceedings where basic human needs are at stake, such as those involving shelter and child custody.