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

2007-06-01 00:00

To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel :

If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.

- Booker T. Washington

I am very proud to be a lawyer. I have chosen a profession where every day I have the privilege and opportunity to do public service. I am equally proud to be a NYCLA member. For 100 years come next April, this Association has encouraged public service through sponsorship of its own programs, as well as education and advocacy. Indeed, part of the core mission of this "great democratic bar association" has been an unfailing commitment to "ensure access to justice for all" and "arrange for the provision by its members of free legal services for indigent, low income and other persons in need." In 2004, NYCLA adopted a policy statement concerning pro bono publico service - a comprehensive and expansive definition of pro bono that encompasses services rendered to low- and middle-income persons, as well as to organizations that provide pro bono services to secure and protect civil liberties or public rights. The policy urges all lawyers to render pro bono legal service and to the maximum extent possible, to provide services benefiting the indigent. The policy reaffirms NYCLA's view that pro bono service should be voluntary, not mandatory. Nearly every day our volunteer lawyers are in the building rendering service to clients, in classrooms, drafting committee reports or amicus briefs on major public policy issues, participating in interviewing skills workshops for law students and young attorneys, and on and on. We intend to expand the membership of our Pro Bono Committee and increase the number of opportunities for service, as well as the number of volunteer lawyers. This fall, we will celebrate the work of volunteer lawyers at the annual Public Service Awards Reception.

As we approach our 100th anniversary, we look back with pride at our accomplishments in the pro bono area and also look forward to all that is yet to be done. Here are some NYCLA projects in which our volunteer lawyers are engaged:

Article 81 Guardianship Project - NYCLA's Supreme Court Committee, in collaboration with the Pro Bono Committee, developed this project, which provides assistance to lay guardians appointed in New York County who are responsible for the property management and/or personal needs of an incapacitated person who has low or no assets. Volunteer attorneys provide basic counseling, assistance in obtaining the commission and help in preparing the initial and annual reports. The program is structured as an appointment-only, consultation clinic.

Elder Law Project - This project facilitates the preparation of basic estate planning documents (wills, living wills, health care proxies and powers of attorney) for Manhattan residents over the age of 62 who lack the financial means to pay for these services.

Legal Counseling Project (Pro Bono Clinic) - Clinic volunteers provide 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.

Uncontested Divorce Project - This project provides counseling and representation for low-income individuals, many of whom are victims of domestic violence.

Youth Law Education Project - In March 2007, the NYC Youth Law Manual was published. Written in an easily understandable format by a team of lawyer volunteers, the Manual is designed to educate high school students about their rights and responsibilities as citizens and provide information about law-related careers. As a pro bono contribution, the law firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP prepared the manuscript. NYCLA Board member Ivan J. Dominguez, then the Director of Diversity, Pro Bono and Community Relations at the law firm, and a team of associates and partners produced the Manual. The Manual, coupled with teacher training seminars, citywide student conferences and career days, delivers information to the approximately 35,000 students enrolled in law-related programs in New York City high schools. The project is guided by the NYCLA Justice Center.

Lawyers in the Classroom - By bringing volunteer lawyers to New York City high schools, the Law-Related Education Committee, chaired by Bronx County Supreme Court Justice Richard Lee Price, provides students with the knowledge and tools necessary to make their voices heard within our democracy.

This May, the Justice Center hosted the 13th annual New York City High School Essay Contest Reception, with ten high school students receiving honors. The contest drew a record 176 entries from 20 high schools throughout the City. This year's essay topic was "What are the pros and cons of permitting students to bring cell phones to school?"


Catherine A. Christian