The City Bar Justice Center’s Pro Bono Consumer Bankruptcy Project provides direct advice or assistance on personal bankruptcy to hundreds of low-income debtors each year.  However, hundreds of other debtors are unable to obtain this help and must file a pro se bankruptcy without any professional assistance or guidance. The Project tries to reach out and provide education to these debtors by conducting bankruptcy workshops and providing educational materials such as the guidebook “Personal Bankruptcy: Is It Right for You?”

Unfortunately, many of these pro se filers run into issues and complications they are unable to deal with on their own. Some of these problems can lead to a case being dismissed or an otherwise unsatisfactory outcome for the debtor. A typical problem would be the need for a debtor to enter into a Reaffirmation Agreement with a creditor in order to preserve a necessary piece of property; this might involve the preservation of an automobile being financed by the debtor and needed to get to work.  Pro Se debtors often do not understand the conditions or consequences involved in such agreements, and the judges must spend time and effort explaining these to the debtor.

When several judges in the Southern and Eastern District reached out to the Project to see if we could produce an educational pamphlet for pro se debtors explaining Reaffirmation Agreements, we collaborated with the Pro Bono Subcommittee of the New York City Bar Committee on Bankruptcy and Corporate Reorganization to write a pamphlet called “Bankruptcy: Understanding Reaffirmation Agreements.”  The subcommittee sought input from a variety of sources, including bankruptcy judges and experienced bankruptcy attorneys in order to produce a comprehensive and informative pamphlet. With the help of a grant from the Eastern District Civil Litigation Fund, Inc., the Project was able to publish and distribute 2,000 copies of the pamphlet. Most of the copies have gone to the Clerk’s Offices of the U.S. Bankruptcy Courts in the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York. They are being made available free of charge to pro se debtors who need the information. An electronic version is also available to the general public on the City Bar Justice Center’s website.

The information in this pamphlet will make it easier for pro se debtors to make informed decisions about how to proceed when they are confronted with demands by creditors to enter into a Reaffirmation Agreement. This will lead to a better outcome and a true “fresh start” for the debtors.

Download “Bankruptcy: Understanding Reaffirmation Agreements” here: http://bit.ly/1eauqcD

 

Posted in City Bar Justice Center | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced on Monday a new rule that will allow thousands of additional corporate in-house attorneys to provide pro bono services in the State of New York. Attorneys who work in corporate law departments in New York but are not admitted in New York State will now be allowed to provide pro bono representation as long as they are admitted and in good standing in another state. This new rule will afford in-house counsel the same opportunities to provide pro bono services to indigent and underserved New Yorkers that are already available to attorneys admitted to practice law in New York State. The rule is in effect as of today.

The City Bar Justice Center has a rich history of leveraging the resources of New York’s in-house legal community to provide access to justice to the city’s neediest populations. The City Bar Justice Center has been active since 2003 in assisting in-house counsel in starting pro bono programs and in finding appropriate projects for corporate counsel.  To date, we have assisted about 50 corporations with organizing programs, drafting documents, choosing appropriate projects and overcoming as many obstacles as possible to the successful launch of corporate pro bono programs. Most of our projects at the Justice Center have active in-house counsel volunteers.  The Justice Center joins the in-house community in celebrating this step forward in providing access to justice to New York’s underserved.

We are hopeful that Chief Judge Lippman’s new rule will mean many additional pro bono hours devoted to underserved New Yorkers. The new rule offers an exciting opportunity for in-house legal departments to expand and strengthen existing pro bono programs, and for even more corporations to launch pro bono programs for the first time.

For additional important information about the rule on pro bono by registered in-house counsel, visit the court’s website here.

 

Posted in City Bar Justice Center | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Today the City Bar Justice Center’s Immigrant Women & Children Project (IWC) released a Special Report, Spotlight on 150 Human Trafficking Cases, that reflects over a decade of direct representation of low-income immigrant survivors of human trafficking in the New York City metropolitan area and informs the Justice Center’s advocacy and policy recommendations. The Special Report by Suzanne Tomatore, Director of the IWC, and Laura Matthews-Jolly, Staff Attorney at the IWC, provides a snapshot of 150 IWC human trafficking cases handled from 2002 through the summer of 2013. These cases involve a number of complex legal issues in the areas of immigration, civil litigation, restitution, and criminal justice advocacy.

The analysis of data brings to light human trafficking trends of immigrant survivors in the New York City metropolitan area. Victims were from 39 different countries, and the data includes a breakdown of the top five countries of origin for both labor and sex trafficking survivors. Of the 150 human trafficking cases, 54.6% involved labor trafficking and 45.3% involved sex trafficking. Domestic work was by far the most frequently reported form of labor trafficking, representing nearly 80% of the labor trafficking cases. While it is known that domestic workers can be particularly vulnerable to exploitation due to the isolating and often hidden nature of the work, the fact that nearly 80% of the labor trafficking cases were domestic workers was higher than anticipated. Also of note: in 26 of the 150 cases, the trafficker was in the diplomatic service. The victims in these 26 cases were all domestic workers, some of whom reported sexual and/or physical assault during their trafficking.

Additionally, the findings show that the average age of the victim at the time of trafficking was 23 years old. This is an older average age than previous studies have shown, and is in contrast to frequent—but disputed—claims that the average age of entry into prostitution is 12 to 14 years of age. This data serves as a reminder that young adults who are trafficked need help and legal assistance just as younger victims do.

Finally, the Special Report offers recommendations for anti-trafficking efforts. One of these recommendations is to “provide legal and social services for trafficked persons of all genders and ages, and promote acceptance of people who do not conform to stereotypical trafficking experiences.” The Special Report further recommends that lawyers working with human trafficking survivors approach anti-trafficking work from a human rights perspective.

The Special Report can be read here: http://bit.ly/1g4023K

 

Posted in City Bar Justice Center | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Justice Center’s work is to mobilize the legal community to respond to unmet legal needs. As exemplified by the pro bono programs it developed following 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti, the Justice Center has a history of training and mobilizing pro bono volunteer attorneys to meet those needs when disasters strike. When Superstorm Sandy hit, the Justice Center immediately launched a response and created its newest project, the Disaster Assistance Project.

The City Bar Justice Center thanks all of the members of the New York legal community who volunteered in Sandy’s aftermath to provide pro bono legal assistance to storm victims. The following is a summary of the Justice Center’s involvement in recruiting, training and coordinating the work of Sandy volunteers for the past year:

  • Trained over 450 attorneys to provide legal assistance to disaster victims.
    • Trained 250 lawyers to provide legal assistance to individuals and families affected by Sandy.
    • Trained 125 attorneys to assist small businesses affected by Sandy.
    • Trained 100+ lawyers in FEMA and insurance appeals.
    • All training materials and videos are available online at www.ProBono.net/NY
  • Provided direct legal services in affected areas
    • Coordinated and staffed 25 weekly legal clinics in the in affected areas, providing walk-in clients with brief legal advice.
    • Partnered with the Federal Reserve Bank of NY to hold three additional legal clinics.
    • Continue to intake cases referred by other legal services organizations; and recently successfully represented a client at a hearing before the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs at which the contractor was ordered to repay the client 100% of the money paid for shoddy and incomplete work.
    • Assisted over 600 people with the help of 85 trained pro bono attorneys from 39 different law firms and corporate legal departments. (Other trained pro bono attorneys volunteered with other legal services organizations.)
    • Matched 37 cases with pro bono attorneys for full representation on issues involving FEMA and insurance denials or underpayments, and more recently, contractor disputes.
    • Expanded the Legal Hotline’s hours to full-time to handle storm-related phone calls.
  • Provided help to small businesses
    • Organized 15 legal clinics specifically for small business owners affected by Sandy.
    • Provided 133 small business owners with brief advice.
    • Matched 25 small business owners with pro bono attorneys for full representation on issues involving denials by their commercial insurers, landlord tenant disputes and applications for loans or grants for affected businesses.
  • Increased access to justice
    • Recognized the need for early intervention of legal services into the City’s disaster recovery efforts.
    • Successfully negotiated access for pro bono legal teams at the NYC Restoration Centers (single-stop venues for storm victims seeking assistance from various federal, state and city agencies).
    • Recruited and organized teams of legal service providers and pro bono attorneys to handle that service delivery at each site at least one day a week.
  • Helped create a national FEMA appeal template
    • Was instrumental in drafting a pro se FEMA appeal template, now a nationwide standard template for a FEMA appeal, to simplify the process of appealing FEMA denials.
    • ProBono.Net turned this template into an online interactive tool that walks individuals through the required steps to generate a completed FEMA appeal letter at the end. It can be found at www.femaappeals.org.
  • Increased the knowledge and collaborative efforts of the legal services community around issues affecting Sandy victims
    • Developed a series of Roundtable discussions in 2013 to bring the legal community and experts in the field together to discuss and learn about arising issues in an informal setting.
    • Hosted and moderated five Roundtables, to date, on the following issues:
      • Homeowner’s insurance, with a presentation by an expert New York insurance law practitioner, who also presented on the topic of insurance broker liability, a topic that was unfamiliar to many members of the legal community.
      • Federal flood insurance, with a presentation by a representative from FEMA who explained the complexities of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
      • The response by regulatory agencies to insurance disputes, with representatives from both the Attorney General’s Office and the state Department of Financial Services on hand to explain their respective offices’ efforts to help consumers who are dealing with complaints against insurance companies.
      • Home improvement contractor disputes and fraud, with a representative from the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs to explain the role of the Department of Consumer Affairs in handling complaints.
      • Proof of loss forms that must be completed by homeowners who are filing claims under the National Flood Insurance Program, with a presentation by an expert in this field who detailed the complications of completing what should be a simple form.
    • Created a Home Improvement Contractor Handbook, a valuable resource that will be available to homeowners who have issues with home improvement contractors and pro bono attorneys assisting homeowners with contractor disputes.

Low income Sandy victims with ongoing unmet legal needs can call our Legal Hotline at 212-626-7383.

Posted in City Bar Justice Center | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On October 29, 2013, the Association of Pro Bono Counsel (APBCo), the Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project (NELP) of the City Bar Justice Center, and eight other NYC legal service providers hosted the inaugural Small Business Legal Academy at Harlem’s World Famous Apollo Theater.

Over 200 small business owners attended to receive free legal counsel from volunteer attorneys representing nearly 35 NYC law firms.  On Tuesday, attorneys from top corporate law firms took the main stage of the Apollo, where musical legends such as Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin have performed in the past.  The presentations covered information on legal essentials for small businesses, intellectual property issues, and not-for-profit formation, among other topics.

Business owners were free to move between the presentations taking place on the main stage and the legal counseling tables in the back of the auditorium. Over 25 corporate attorneys lined the back wall to meet one-on-one with clients who had specific legal questions about their businesses. Among the many issues addressed, incorporation matters and intellectual property questions were the most common.

Business owners who required ongoing legal assistance were referred back to the nine legal service organizations that partnered together to organize the all-day conference: Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, City Bar Justice Center, Lawyers Alliance for New York, The Legal Aid Society, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Pro Bono Net, Start Small Think Big, Urban Justice Center, and Volunteers of Legal Service.

Photography by Joyce Mishaan.

 

Posted in City Bar Justice Center | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Early last year, Milteri Tucker Concepcion approached NELP for legal assistance filing a trademark for her business, BOMBAZO. Born in Puerto Rico, Milteri moved to the Bronx after high school to pursue her passion for dance. She began her New York City career as a Hispanic folkloric dancer, combining the traditional Afro-Puerto Rican style of bomba with modern-day influences. By offering bomba dance classes and producing recitals for her students to showcase their work, Milteri sought to keep Puerto Rican heritage alive in her local Bronx community and empower young girls through the benefits of dance.

Bomba consists of a creative exchange between the drummer and dancer in which the dancer leads, producing a series of movements with her full, colorful skirt, while the drummer keeps up with a synchronized beat. As Milteri’s classes grew more popular, she began to receive numerous requests for the particular style of skirt that bomba dancers wear. Seizing the entrepreneurial opportunity, she started BOMBAZO in 2009 to combine her business endeavors: Bombazo Dance Company and Bombazo Wear by Milteri®.

Bombazo Wear by Milteri

In early 2012, Milteri reached out to NELP to assist her with employment and intellectual property matters. She knew she had a great product and a growing business, and she wanted to take prudent steps to protect her work. Through NELP, Milteri was able to secure pro bono legal assistance filing a trademark application to protect her brand. Her pro bono attorney, Michael Lavine from Kirkland & Ellis, praised Milteri: “Though very busy, Ms. Tucker has been a very focused, enthusiastic client and has been actively engaged in the process to obtain her trademark. Ms. Tucker indeed has a very entrepreneurial spirit.”

Bombazo Wear by Milteri

Since receiving legal assistance from NELP, Milteri has enjoyed great success in her business. Bombazo Wear by Milteri® has been featured in the Off Broadway Musical: Temple Of The Souls, the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, and the 2012 International New York Salsa Congress.

Posted in City Bar Justice Center | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Last month, City Bar President Carey R. Dunne testified at hearings on civil legal services convened by Hon. Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of the State of New York. The transcripts have now been posted on the NYCourts.gov website.

The day’s hearings began with Judge Lippman describing a “crisis in this State, in this city, in this country in civil legal services for the poor. What we’re talking about are people fighting for the necessities of life, the roof over their head, their physical safety, health care, their livelihoods, the well-being of their family.”

Dunne’s testimony focused on the work of the City Bar Justice Center. “Last year, the Justice Center provided the equivalent of $21 million worth of legal services to low income New Yorkers, in areas such as homelessness, debt relief, veteran’s benefits, immigration and elder law,” he said. “We did all this with a very small staff of 18 attorneys, who were able however to enlist a pro bono army of over 1,000 attorneys from firms around the city. Now, one of the small but essential sources of financial support for this effort has been Legal Services funding from the judiciary, and because of our leverage, again, those dollars go a very long way.”

Dunne went on to describe the Justice Center’s response to the enormous and sudden demand for legal services brought on by Superstorm Sandy. “In the immediate aftermath of the storm, the Justice Center helped train 375 pro bono lawyers in sessions at the City Bar. These hundreds of volunteers then fanned out with just three Justice Center staff to places in the Rockaways, and later in Staten Island and Brooklyn, to provide emergency legal help. These efforts assisted 450 households and small businesses,” he said.

Following Dunne’s testimony, Judge Lippman brought up Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court ruling providing representation for criminal defendants without the means to pay for their own attorneys, and asked, “Are we anywhere near a civil Gideon v. Wainwright?” Dunne responded, “Well, my own personal view is I don’t see it on the horizon….I think it is something that ought to be discussed more actively. Not just in our city, but on a national level.”

Read the complete testimony here: http://bit.ly/16wmn6r

This blog has been cross-posted on the New York City Bar Association’s website.

Posted in City Bar Justice Center | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On September 30th, the New York Law Journal reported on the two public defender organizations that will form the New York Immigrant Defenders (NYID), a unique pilot project to provide universal legal representation to indigent detainees facing deportation. Through funding from the New York City Council, NYID will begin in early November and take on 166 cases in the next year at the Varick Street Immigration Court. Potential clients will be screened only for economic need, with anyone making under 200 percent of the poverty limit receiving a court-appointed lawyer.

This announcement is of particular interest to the City Bar Justice Center because we operate programs serving low-income New Yorkers in ICE detention and have long advocated for the right to government assigned counsel for anyone facing removal. In addition to our work on community education regarding immigration rights, the Justice Center has three main pro bono immigration programs. The Justice Center’s Immigrant Women & Children Project assists survivors of violent crimes in applying for immigration relief, the Refugee Assistance Project helps those who have fled violence in their own countries to obtain asylum, and the Varick Removal Defense Project specifically matches pro bono attorneys to New Yorkers who are detained and cannot afford attorneys to enable them to raise cancellation and other defenses in the Immigration Court.

Additionally, research by a study group convened by Second Circuit Judge Robert Katzmann demonstrated the inability of immigrant detainees to represent themselves, with only three percent of them achieving success in their cases without counsel. Lynn Kelly, the Executive Director of the City Bar Justice Center, participated in Judge Katzmann’s efforts. The Justice Center is hopeful that the NYID model is a first step towards a nationwide immigration public defender system that will ensure fairness and the opportunity for all residents of New York City to have their day in court with lawyers who will assert their rights.

The launch of this innovative pilot project is particularly timely in light of a recent report that calls into question the way in which many individuals end up in ICE detention in the first place. The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University has newly obtained data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that shows a startling difference between the agency’s stated goals and its actual performance. Specifically, the report focuses on ICE detainers, which are notices issued by ICE and other Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agencies that ask local, state and federal law enforcement agencies not to release suspected non-citizens held at their facilities in order to give ICE an opportunity to take them into custody. While these detainers have became a primary tool that ICE uses to apprehend the suspects it is seeking, there is no legal obligation for state and local law enforcement agencies to honor these detainers and some jurisdictions have begun refusing to hold individuals arrested for minor violations or those who pose little to no risk to public safety. The case-by-case data received by TRAC reveal that, despite ICE setting new, stricter detainer guidelines in December 2012, fewer than one in nine of the ICE detainers actually met the agency’s stated goal of targeting individuals who pose a serious threat to public safety or national security. Further, only one third of the individuals against whom detainers were issued had any record of a criminal conviction, including minor traffic violations. Equally troubling, common offenses like simple traffic violations can sometimes lead to the placement of an individual in the highest threat-level category.

The Justice Center, whose clients cover a broad spectrum of New York City’s neediest and whose mission is to provide lawyers to those unable to adequately represent themselves, salutes the City Council’s commitment to fund lawyers to represent the underserved community of non-citizen residents facing detention and deportation.

The City Bar’s reports on right to counsel for immigrant detainees can be read at the following links:

Varick Removal Defense Project’s Report

Immigration & Nationality Committee’s Report

Posted in City Bar Justice Center | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The City Bar Justice Center, the pro bono affiliate of the New York City Bar Association, has announced the winners of the fifth annual Jeremy G. Epstein Awards for Outstanding Pro Bono Service. Honoring the most outstanding volunteer attorney in each of the Justice Center projects, the awards will be presented at a Celebration of Service reception on October 22nd, as part of National Pro Bono Week.

This year’s awardees are:

Pamela Ehrenkranz, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
Edward J. Ferraro, Law Offices of Edward J. Ferraro
Douglas S. Heffer Alicia L. Pitts, Foley & Lardner LLP
Meghan Hill, Dickstein Shapiro LLP
Carol Notias Kotsinis, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP
Matthew W. Mamak, Alston & Bird LLP
Arnold H. Pedowitz, Pedowitz & Meister, LLP
Stacey Pramer, Pramer Communications
Gregory P. Rodgers, Latham & Watkins LLP
Marc D. Rosenberg, Kaye Scholer LLP & Daniel A. Bloom, Kaye Scholer/Curtis
Adam C. Tubbs, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP & Affiliates
Scott Wilcox, Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP

Hon. Jed S. Rakoff, United States District Judge, SDNY, will deliver a keynote address and Mei Lin Kwan-Gett, City Bar Fund Board Chair, will present the awards. City Bar President Carey R. Dunne will provide introductory remarks.

When: Tuesday, October 22, 2013, 5:30 p.m.

Where: New York City Bar Association, 42 W 44th Street, New York, NY

By invitation only. Media welcome. Please register here.

Jeremy G. Epstein, who passed away in May 2009, was a partner at Shearman & Sterling LLP and a board member at the City Bar Justice Center, The Legal Aid Society and the Fund for Modern Courts. He logged over 5,000 hours of pro bono and public service over the last 20 years.

Posted in City Bar Justice Center | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project (NELP), in conjunction with BNY Mellon Legal Department’s Pro Bono Committee, Mayer Brown LLP, the National Minority Business Council, and Vera Moore Cosmetics, hosted a “Small Business Branding Makeover for Women Entrepreneurs” on Thursday, September 12, 2013 at BNY Mellon’s downtown corporate office.

Thirty-three New York entrepreneurs attended the free event to learn best practices for marketing their business and successful strategies for protecting their business’ brand and intellectual property. Akira Arroyo from NELP opened the evening’s program by introducing the guest speakers. Ajita Abraham from BNY Mellon and Allison Stillman from Mayer Brown shared their expertise on patents, trademarks, and other intellectual property matters. Emily Mason from BNY Mellon and Peter Columbus from Mayer Brown shared marketing and networking tips, along with successful strategies for developing an effective brand identity.

The presentations were followed by a short talk by special guest speaker Vera Moore, President & CEO of Vera Moore Cosmetics. Moore shared her personal journey as an entrepreneur who followed her passion to become the founder of one of the most progressive cosmetic and skincare lines in the country. Moore recounted her initial struggles as a black businesswoman in New York and the barriers within the highly competitive cosmetic industry she ultimately overcame to thrive for thirty-three years in business.

Two lucky attendees won complimentary makeovers by Vera Moore Cosmetics: Deidra Braz of Life In A Day Of and Angela Friedman of Angela Friedman. Entrepreneurs had the opportunity to network with each other and with attorneys from Mayer Brown LLP and BNY Mellon to receive informal business and legal tips over wine and cheese.

 

Posted in City Bar Justice Center | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment