Now More Than Ever
As Thanksgiving approaches, most of us will find a way to appreciate our good fortune. A traumatic event has violated our City, and lasting consequences affect us all. Nevertheless, we have overwhelmingly spent more of our grief on our neighbor than on ourselves. The stories we tell about ourselves more often than not concern our good luck.
Many, many times since September 11, I have been moved by the eagerness of the Bar to help the public and one another. Lawyers seeking to volunteer filled our Great Hall, the stairway to the Great Hall, our lobby and the sidewalk outside the House all the way down to Sixth Avenue. Maria Imperial, the Director of the City Bar Fund, has referred to this outpouring of assistance as one of the "bright spots," and she is certainly right. This bright spot is a proud moment for the bar and is something for which I am very thankful.
We can all in turn be proud of and thankful for the City Bar Fund. It has served as the critical focal point. Athena, the icon of the Association, is portrayed on our seal as the Defender of the City. The City Bar Fund is helping the legal profession to play an important role in the City's defense, and most critically, in the preservation of its soul.
Following September 11, the City Bar Fund, other legal services providers in the City, and several bar associations developed a unique model to provide September 11 related legal assistance. Under this model, the Fund has trained over a thousand lawyers to be "facilitators" to assist September 11 victims. Facilitators are the legal equivalent of family doctors. They take on a family or small business as their client, assess that client's legal needs in a comprehensive way, and either provide the needed service (possibly with the help of an experienced mentor) or refer the matter to an expert for specialized legal services that the facilitator is not readily able to provide.
The model is working well. It is coordinated by the City Bar Fund and the ABCNY/NYCLA Legal Referral Service under the direction of Al Charne. The model is designed to provide high quality legal services in an efficient way. It makes full use of technology through a partnerships with ProbonoNet (to provide volunteers easy access to September 11 related legal materials) and ilawyer (to manage intake and match volunteers with clients). So far over 600 facilitators have been matched with clients, and there appears to be a high level of client satisfaction.
Remarkably, the City Bar Fund staff is using this new model to coordinate September 11 volunteer work while at the same time trying to maintain its regular work. We all recognize that the events of September 11 have magnified the importance of the Fund's "regular" work of legal outreach to the City's poor.
A good example is the Fund's program of legal clinics for the homeless. For any family or individual, the threat of homelessness is a crisis and the occurrence of homelessness is a disaster. It is not generally recognized how "unsolved" the problem of homelessness is in our City. Even prior to September 11, the City was experiencing a 30 percent increase in those seeking shelter over the year before and the number of families in shelters (20,655) exceeded previous highs.
The Fund has trained hundreds of volunteer attorneys, paralegals and law students who help clients keep their housing or find new housing if they have already lost it. Even before September 11, the City Bar Fund's homeless clinics, held four times a month at different locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn, were experiencing heavy demand. Now, with the ripple effects of September 11, more families and individuals will be threatened with homelessness. A symposium at the Association on November 29 at 7:00 p.m. will address this escalating problem, and I urge you to attend.
Similar examples can be multiplied, and the overall result has been an increased strain on City Bar Fund resources. Several firms have seconded lawyers and paralegals to help the City Bar Fund carry out September 11-related activities, and we are seeking support from outside funders, but here and now additional financial help is needed from you, our members.
This, then, is the background for my request that you contribute as much as you can to the City Bar Fund. All contributions are tax deductible. A reply envelope is enclosed for your convenience, and I would be very grateful if you would take a moment now to write a check and mail it to the City Bar Fund. You can also contribute by credit card by calling 212-382-6665 or accessing our website at www.abcny.org.
Thank you and have a happy Thanksgiving.