When Sophia Sylvester’s two children started experiencing severe dry skin that no cream or prescription could cure, she took matters into her own hands and decided to concoct her own lotion.

The products she had found in stores contained obscure ingredients she couldn’t pronounce and ended up making her children’s skin worse. Wanting to create an all-natural product for her children, she researched “healing butters and oils” and started making her own body butter at home. Miraculously, her children’s skin improved.

Sophia had been a medical assistant at a local Brooklyn hospital, but she stopped working after getting injured on the job. The unexpected unemployment gave her the time to continue making the butters at home, along with massage oils, soap bars, and soy candles. She started selling the products at her doctor’s office and sharing samples with her friends and family. Receiving widespread praise and positive feedback, Sophia decided to focus on her business full-time and knew she had to take steps to protect it.

Sophia approached the Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project (NELP) in 2010 for trademark assistance for her business name, “Brooklyn Flavors” as well as for some of her product names, which were based on historical locations in Brooklyn. NELP paired her with volunteer attorney Ana Alba of Alba Law Firm, P.C. Although initially there was a concern that Sophia couldn’t trademark her business name due to its widespread use, Ana eventually filed two successful trademark applications.

In 2013, Sophia found a storefront in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. She came back to NELP for assistance with reviewing and negotiating the commercial lease. NELP paired her with Matthew Schneid, formerly an associate at DLA Piper LLP, and she opened her storefront in August 2013. “He worked out a great lease for us and really fought for us,” Sophia said. “He did such a great job that even the landlord was wondering where I got the money to get an attorney from this high-end law firm.”

Sophia said that NELP “made it possible for my business to take the next step. It was smooth sailing and really great. I have recommended NELP to friends and will continue to do so.”

NELP was launched by the City Bar Justice Center in 2003 to provide low- to moderate-income micro-entrepreneurs with the legal services necessary to get their businesses started off on as sound a footing as possible. To date, NELP has partnered with more than 100 law firms, 25 corporate legal departments, and 30 community-based organizations to assist more than 14,000 clients through the provision of brief services, direct representation, legal clinics, and community presentations.

Sophia’s all-natural skincare products can be purchased online at www.brooklynflavors.com or at her store located at 820 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11238.

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On the morning of Tuesday, June 25th, I drove down to the South Bronx from Westchester in my Honda Civic. In the car’s back seat, front seat, and trunk were clothes that I had gathered to drop off at the Stratford House with Kendra Oke, who is organizing a clothing drive in July for the tenants of the low-income housing development.

I had heard about the clothing drive while interning at the City Bar Justice Center. Lisa Pearlstein, the director for the CBJC’s Legal Clinic for the Homeless, mentioned that Stratford House was looking for clothes in good condition, including business attire, and I thought that my teachers and the Irvington High School community would have some clothes to donate to meet those needs.

A couple of weeks ago, I began corresponding with the vice principle of IHS, made up fliers and distributed them to the faculty mailboxes, and sent out a couple of mass e-mails to the school faculty. Within two weeks, the vice principle’s office was full of bags of clothes from the faculty and the faculty’s children who had outgrown many garments. I also corresponded with Ms. Ricciardi of the Irvington Middle School, who allowed me to sort through many clothes that the IMS Midnight Run club had collected.

From these two sources, I collected enough clothes to fill my car and drove down to the Stratford House to meet Ms. Oke and drop them off. Ms. Oke welcomed me and gave me a tour of the Stratford House and of her apartment. She served me a glass of ginger ale and told me about the hardships she and other tenants of the house had faced and about the noble work she was doing for the house and with her church.

I was humbled and inspired by Ms. Oke’s stories and her attitude. She told me more than once that she believed in “paying it forward.” After I left the house, contributing to her clothing drive seemed like a no-brainer. More often than not, resources like clothing are abundant in the town that I am from, and leveraging some of these resources to donate to those less fortunate seems only right. I hope the clothes that I collected will be of good use to the tenants of the Stratford House.

Ben Wojnar is a student at Irvington High School.


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The City Bar Justice Center welcomes yesterday’s announcement by Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to designate Nepal for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) based on the conditions resulting from the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25, 2015, and continuing aftershocks.

TPS is a humanitarian form of relief extended to foreign nationals from countries specifically designated for relief by the Department of State because of ongoing civil strife or, as is the case for Nepal, natural disasters.  “This is a temporary, compassionate and commonsense action that removes a burden of worry from Nepalese nationals already residing here in the U.S., who could have been required to return home to a devastated country,” said Senator Charles Schumer, who had written to the Department of Homeland Security for the protection.

The TPS designation for Nepal is effective June 24, 2015, through December 24, 2016. During the 18-month designated period, eligible nationals of Nepal cannot be removed from the United States, may receive work authorization, and be granted travel authorization.  The 180-day TPS registration period begins June 24, 2015, and runs through December 21, 2015.  The Federal Register notice published yesterday provides details and procedures for applying for TPS.

The City Bar Justice Center will be working with area organizations, including Adhikaar, the largest Nepali community group in New York City, to conduct TPS screenings and application assistance clinics.  The Justice Center has a long track record in organizing large-scale legal clinics in response to emerging needs and crises, including Special Registration following 9/11, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Hurricane Sandy, and Haitian TPS. Earlier this year, the Justice Center mobilized volunteer attorneys following the TPS designation for Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea in the wake of the ebola outbreak there.

Jennifer Kim is Director of the Refugee Assistance Project and Danny Alicea is the Fragomen Fellow at the City Bar Justice Center

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Jane C. Sherburne, principal of the legal consulting firm Sherburne PLLC, has been elected Chair of the City Bar Fund of the New York City Bar Association. The Fund encompasses the City Bar Justice Center, the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, the Lawyer Assistance Program, and other activities. Sherburne succeeds Mei Lin Kwan-Gett as Chair of the City Bar Fund.

In addition, the following officers were elected for the 2015-2016 term: Heidi Levine, Partner, DLA Piper, as Vice President; Hazel-Ann Mayers, Senior Vice President, Assistant General Counsel, Litigation & Chief Compliance Officer, CBS Corporation, as Vice President; Bret I. Parker, Executive Director, New York City Bar Association, as Vice President; Thomas J. Halter, Chief Operating Officer, New York City Bar Association, as Assistant Treasurer; and William Viets, Managing Director & Associate General Counsel, J.P. Morgan, as Secretary.

Debra L. Raskin, Partner, Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard, P.C., and President, New York City Bar Association, and Damian S. Schaible, Partner, Davis Polk, and Treasurer of the City Bar serve ex-officio as President and Treasurer of the City Bar Fund.

The following new members were elected to the City Bar Fund Board of Directors Class of 2018: Pamela Ehrenkranz, chair of the Trust and Estates practice at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz and Chair of the City Bar Justice Center’s Planning and Estates Law Project, and Michael Schachter, the Pro Bono Partner at Willkie Farr & Gallagher.

In addition, the following directors were reelected to the City Bar Fund Board of Directors Class of 2018: Mei Lin Kwan-Gett, Carmen Ciparick, Natasha Wyss, Tracy R. High, and Mary Beth Forshaw.

Sherburne was previously Senior Executive Vice President and General Counsel of BNY Mellon; Senior Executive Vice President and General Counsel Of Wachovia Corporation; Deputy General Counsel and Senior Deputy General Counsel of Citigroup, and General Counsel of Citigroup’s Global Consumer Group. Sherburne has also been a Partner at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering. She served as Special Counsel to the President during the Clinton Administration, and as Chief of Staff and Executive Assistant to the Commissioner of Social Security in the Carter Administration. Sherburne is a trustee of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the National Women’s Law Center.

To view the full board, click here.


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The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York and the City Bar Justice Center have collaborated to launch the Federal Pro Se Legal Assistance Project (FedPro), a pilot project to provide information, advice, and limited-scope legal assistance to people proceeding pro se in a variety of federal civil cases in the Eastern District of New York.

FedPro, which operates out of an office in the Eastern District’s Brooklyn courthouse, has access to the resources of the City Bar Justice Center, including supervision, malpractice insurance, computer equipment, a cloud-based case management system, support on client counseling and legal issues, and a wide pro bono network.

“The Eastern District of New York is taking the lead in providing much-needed assistance to pro se litigants,” said Chief Judge Carol B. Amon, United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. “The program is showing early promise of great success.”

Lynn M. Kelly, Executive Director of the City Bar Justice Center, the pro bono services affiliate of the New York City Bar Association, said, “We are pleased to partner on this innovative pilot project to expand legal assistance for people pursuing or defending claims in court and who cannot afford attorneys.”

FedPro’s project director is Nancy Rosenbloom, an experienced civil rights litigator. Over 100 people have sought free legal consultation from FedPro since the courthouse office opened this spring. Cases have ranged from employment discrimination and other civil rights matters to small business disputes and mortgage foreclosure actions.

FedPro receives referrals from District Judges, Magistrate Judges, the Court Clerk’s office, and word of mouth, and has received early positive feedback from court personnel as well as clients. As the work progresses, FedPro is developing informational material and forms, and tracking data to measure results and refine the model.

This summer FedPro will add a student intern as well as a rotation of pro bono attorneys from participating firms who will be of counsel to the City Bar Justice Center. Law student externs or clinic students are expected to join the Project in the fall.

The Court and the Justice Center are planning a ribbon-cutting event for the FedPro office at a date to be announced.


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More than 30 years ago, organizational theorist Karl Wieck observed that in the face of overwhelming social problems like homelessness, we can feel helpless to do anything. However,  in Weick’s thought-provoking article “Small Wins: Redefining the Scale of Social Problems,” he suggests that we view massive issues as a series of smaller problems that can be affected by small wins. Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win; new allies suggest solutions and old opponents change their habits.

The City Bar Justice Center’s Legal Clinic for the Homeless (LCH) has achieved a series of small wins that have significantly reinforced the safety net for homeless families. Working in a coalition with other legal services providers, LCH pressured and convinced New York City’s welfare administration (HRA), that it must systematically target families who may not be receiving enough benefits to adequately feed their families: those living in shelters without kitchens or meals. In November and December of 2014, the City reviewed 176 cases and issued approximately $140,000 in retroactive and ongoing restaurant allowance to these homeless families. Welfare center staff have been re-trained and are now issuing restaurant allowance more consistently to eligible families.

More recently, pressure from LCH resulted in HRA manually reviewing over 5,000 cases of homeless families to ensure that those receiving carfare allowance to search for housing were issued an increased amount due to the March 2015 MetroCard fare hike. Shelters require families to look for permanent housing, but without the ability to pay the transportation costs, the task is impossible. Previous fare increases had not been addressed promptly or systematically by HRA. HRA’s own staff is now seeking to ensure that the next carfare increase is implemented automatically by the agency.

LCH has shifted its focus to achieving other small wins designed to alleviate hunger and suffering. We have proposed that HRA provide restaurant allowance to homeless families who are “conditionally” placed in shelter, to those adults who are working during shelter mealtimes, and to young children who may not eat the meals served by shelters. We are also urging the City to provide a small cash allowance to those who first apply for public assistance to meet emergency needs while HRA investigates their eligibility for ongoing benefits. A series of small wins can do a lot to alleviate hardship.

Lisa Pearlstein is Director of the City Bar Justice Center’s Legal Clinic for the Homeless.


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A power of attorney (“PoA”) is a special form that permits another person (the “agent” or “attorney-in-fact”) to act on behalf of you (the “principal”).  Any person over age 18 and competent can sign a PoA.

The reasons you would want a PoA in place are many and include the following:

  • In the case of your incapacity, your agent can administer your personal, business, and financial affairs;
  • When you are out of communication and “off the grid,” your agent can take care of your financial affairs.

Give careful consideration to whether you want to sign a PoA, and to the person you select as your agent. Choose someone you trust to stand in your shoes and take whatever actions you could take (i.e., empty and close bank accounts or sell property).

You can name one or more individuals to act as your agent.

  • You can provide that the agents act separately or require them to act together.
  • You can designate successor or alternate agents, should the first person or persons you choose be unable to act.

You can give the agent as much or as little authority as you would like.  Your agent can handle real estate, banking, insurance, tax, and/or other transactions.

A PoA becomes effective immediately when it is signed and acknowledged before a notary public by the principal and the agent.

  • Since it is such a powerful grant of authority, you should keep the fully executed PoA in a safe and secure place.
  • Your agent should be able to access the PoA when you want the agent to have it.
  • You should not give the PoA to the agent until such time as you are ready for the agent to act on your behalf.

While there is a section in the PoA form for the appointment of another individual to act as monitor of the agent and to oversee what steps and transactions the agent takes on your behalf, in practice a monitor is rarely chosen.  It is important to choose an honest and reliable agent who will not require supervision and oversight.

In order to enable an agent to make gifts over $500, an additional special form called a Statutory Gifts Rider must also be executed. This document must be signed by you before a notary and two witnesses.

You may revoke the PoA at any time in the manner specifically prescribed by law.

Your agent is entitled to be reimbursed for the reasonable expenses the agent incurs on your behalf.  You can also give your agent compensation for acting on your behalf.

If you execute a new PoA, any prior PoA will remain effective unless it is specifically revoked.

The PoA lasts only as long as you are living; it automatically terminates at your death.

The City Bar Justice Center’s Planning and Estates Law Project (PELP) has helped more than 300 low-income New Yorkers since 2013 with important legal issues and their estate planning documents, including PoA’s.

To contact The Planning & Estates Law Project, call 212-382-6756

Look for our upcoming blog posts on the following topics: Health care proxies, directives regarding organ donation, cremation, and disposition of remains


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On April 1st, the City Bar Justice Center’s 10th Annual Gala honored WilmerHale and IBM with the 2015 City Bar Justice Awards, for their leadership and dedication to pro bono service.

The annual gala is a fundraiser vital for the Justice Center to continue its work in protecting the rights of over 20,000 New Yorkers each year who cannot afford legal assistance. Through pro bono legal representation, know-your-rights presentations, clinics targeting specific legal needs, and a free Legal Hotline, the Justice Center provides over $18 million worth of legal assistance each year. This year’s gala raised over $1 million.

From left: Edward Sebold, Vice President and Assistant General Counsel, IBM; Debra L. Raskin, President, New York City Bar Association; Bret I. Parker, Executive Director, New York City Bar Association; Lynn M. Kelly, Executive Director, City Bar Justice Center; Mei Lin Kwan-Gett, City Bar Fund Chair; and Charles Platt, Partner-in-Charge, New York Office, WilmerHale.

Accepting the City Bar Justice Award for IBM was Edward Sebold, Vice President and Assistant General Counsel, and accepting for WilmerHale was Charles Platt, Partner-in-Charge of the New York Office.  New York City Bar Association President Debra L. Raskin and City Bar Fund Chair Mei Lin Kwan-Gett presented the awards.

Working with the Justice Center, WilmerHale’s attorneys have provided pro bono legal services to homeless families, veterans, unaccompanied minors, and victims of the 9/11 attacks, and have partnered on a multiyear effort to advocate for sensible reform of immigration laws.

IBM attorneys devoted many pro bono hours on weekends providing disaster relief assistance at neighborhood clinics following Superstorm Sandy, and have worked with the Justice Center’s Veterans Assistance Project and Immigrant Women and Children Project to obtain disability benefits for veterans and immigration relief for domestic violence and human trafficking victims.

photo of presidents

Six former City Bar Presidents joined current President Debra Raskin at the gala. From left: Michael A. Cardozo, Robert M.Kaufman, Samuel W. Seymour, Bettina B. Plevan, Debra L. Raskin, E. Leo Milonas; Carey R. Dunne

“Partners like WilmerHale and IBM are what allow the Justice Center to carry out its work, and their pro bono contributions are instrumental in ensuring that our justice system works for everyone regardless of income,” said Lynn Kelly, Executive Director of the City Bar Justice Center.

In addition to the honorees, sponsors this year included many of New York’s leading law firms as well as companies including 21st Century Fox, AIG, American Express, Barclay’s, BNY Mellon, CBS, Citigroup, Colgate-Palmolive Company, EY, Goldman Sachs, JetBlue, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, MetLife, Morgan Stanley, Pfizer, Thomson Reuters, Time Warner, and UBS.

View all of the supporters of the 2015 Gala here. And if you would like to join them in supporting the Justice Center’s work, please click here. For more photos, click here.

Watch the gala video on the Justice Center’s work on behalf of the homeless:

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In 2008, fitness instructor and entrepreneur Tim Haft approached  the City Bar Justice Center’s Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project (NELP) seeking legal assistance. Four years prior, he had founded Punk Rope, a fitness company best known for its fitness class of the same name, which combined intense cardio with a fun and playful attitude. Having grown up in New York City, Haft was familiar with the endless fitness options available to the average New Yorker but found that nobody was doing what he wanted to do–have fun while working out in a carefree environment for adults, “kind of like recess.”

Haft’s rope-jumping based fitness class focused on increasing strength, stamina, and coordination. After hearing a lot of no’s from potential venues, he found allies in community centers such as the YMCA and JCC that were willing to give his idea a shot. Within four years, he got Punk Rope off the ground with consistent weekly classes across the city as well as certification workshops throughout the U.S. As his business expanded, Haft knew he needed to craft some sort of plan in order to protect his innovative intellectual property.

Despite growing interest in Punk Rope from major fitness chains and some exciting media attention, Haft’s business was not profitable enough to afford private counsel. At the recommendation of a friend, he reached out to NELP for assistance.

NELP connected Haft with volunteer attorney Randi Kassover of Merrill Lynch, who reviewed contracts for Punk Rope to use with its instructors and facilities. Kassover also assisted with licensing issues for a fitness DVD Haft was in the process of creating. She helped him license music from bands for the DVD and crafted a disclaimer for its opening credits.

As Punk Rope celebrated its fifth anniversary in 2009, fitness trainers in Europe reached out to Haft with interest in becoming Punk Rope-certified so they could teach their own Punk Rope classes across the pond. Given the hands-on manner of operating his business, Haft was initially reluctant to launch a distance certification program. When he decided to proceed, NELP connected Haft with two solo practitioners, Irena Mykyta and David Leyden, who helped him navigate the international market. They created a contract for him to use with overseas fitness instructors interested in licensing the Punk Rope concept. The first overseas instructor to become certified was in the Netherlands. Since then, Punk Rope has certified instructors in England, Canada, and New Zealand.

On the role NELP played in his business development, Haft says, “NELP’s volunteers are really motivated, knowledgeable, and willing to share their expertise and make time. To this day, all these years later, the foundation that they laid was really significant and so important for a young business. If your foundation is weak, there are going to be cracks down the road and you’ll have to backpedal to figure things out.”

Punk Rope classes are now offered across the country in California, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, and New York, as well as abroad. Punk Rope has been featured on national television in the United Kingdom and in a variety of major publications within the U.S. In 2013, Punk Rope was invited to present a workshop at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s prestigious Summer Teacher Institute. Punk Rope’s Rope Jumping for Maximum Fitness DVD has sold more than 1,000 copies. To find a Punk Rope class near you, visit http://punkrope.com.


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In recent years, the problem of sexual assault within the military has gained national attention.  At the City Bar Justice Center’s Veterans Assistance Project (VAP) we hear from dozens of veterans who were assaulted while in the military. As demonstrated by these clients’ stories, the harms caused by sexual violence do not end after discharge from the military. Military Sexual Trauma victims (MST) will likely carry with them the psychological trauma caused by a sexual assault for the rest of their lives. Conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or anxiety can have long-term effects on a veteran’s ability to engage in meaningful work and lead a full, productive civilian life.

VAP represented a veteran from the Vietnam era who was violently attacked and sexually assaulted by a fellow serviceman. The victim was hospitalized following the assault and reported the incident to his doctors and to the military police; however, to his knowledge, there was no investigation. The client had repeatedly filed for benefits for PTSD on his own, but had been denied. The VA claimed they were unable to find his service medical records. The pro bono attorney working on his case was able to locate a fellow service officer who had served with the client and remembered the incident. This officer drafted an affidavit corroborating the assault. The VA agreed to grant benefits for PTSD and the veteran was awarded nearly $95,000 in retroactive benefits.

In another VAP case, a woman who served in the 1970s was continually harassed and eventually sexually assaulted by her commanding officer. Immediately following this incident, the victim attempted suicide by jumping onto a highway. She was hospitalized after the suicide attempt for a broken ankle and psychiatric distress. However, she never reported the sexual assault because she feared retaliation from her commanding officer. She pushed through and continued her service. Her pro bono attorney was able to argue that the veteran, who had a sound record of military service, would not have attempted suicide if this incident had not in fact occurred. The veteran’s claim was granted and she received enough in retroactive benefits to pay debts that had accrued due to her medical issues and inability to work. Over the course of our representation, this veteran also became an active advocate for other veterans and started a group for female veterans who have faced sexual harassment and discrimination in the military.

Some 14% of the cases VAP opened in the last six months involve an MST claim. While Department of Defense statistics indicate that women are proportionally more likely to face sexual assault in the military, our Project has seen about an equal number of men and women filing MST claims over the years. This may be because a higher number of men have served in the armed forces in our nation’s history. VAP serves veterans from World War II and Korea all the way through the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our experience on VAP has shown that legal representation can be instrumental in ensuring that claims involving MST are decided correctly by the Veterans Administration.

Caitlin Kilroy is Staff Attorney for the City Bar Justice Center’s Veterans Assistance Project.


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