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Justice Center Executive Director Lynn Kelly's remarks at City Hall kickoff of NYC Legal Outreach

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Justice Center Executive Director Lynn Kelly's remarks at City Hall kickoff of NYC Legal Outreach

Thank you to Mayor Bloomberg and the Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo for inviting the City Bar Justice Center to participate today. My name is Lynn Kelly and I am the Executive Director of The City Bar Justice Center. The Justice Center is part of the City Bar Fund, the 501(c) (3) public service affiliate of the City Bar. Our mission is to leverage the resources of the New York City legal community to increase access to justice. The Justice Center assists more than 25,000 clients a year approximately half of whom are helped with advice, brief services and tailored referrals through a free civil legal hotline.

At the Justice Center, we start from the basic proposition that the justice gap in New York is large and well documented and that pro bono attorneys are part of the solution to closing the gap. In the past two years we have started successful projects to address emerging legal needs including a Veterans' Advocacy Project, a Foreclosure Project, an Immigrant Outreach Project and a Varick Street Immigrant Detention Project. I have been asked today to focus on two of the City Bar Justice Center's successful pro bono projects addressing needs affected by the Economic downturn —Foreclosure and Monday Night Law. Let me start with Foreclosure.

The need for pro bono assistance in the Foreclosure area in New York City is great. In addition to the pro bono projects at the City Bar Justice Center, many other programs are doing terrific work in this area and could use volunteer lawyers and they are here today: Michael Hickey and Amanda Ehrenberg from the Center for New York City Neighborhoods, Adrienne Holder from The Legal Aid Society, Jennifer Levy from South Brooklyn Legal Services, and NEDAP.

Since June 2008, the City Bar Justice Center has trained over 350 attorneys to handle foreclosure matters. Without private attorneys willing to volunteer, and despite the best efforts of the legal services community and housing counseling communities, fewer homeowners would be represented, putting themselves at a disadvantage and burdening the court employees. I am pleased to report that our volunteer foreclosure efforts have kept 188 family members housed over the past year. The Justice Center has partnered with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the State Banking Department and the New York State Housing Trust Fund Corporation on these efforts.

In a time of scarce resources, it makes good economic sense to fund effective pro bono programs. Each of our projects is efficient in the sense that we use a small, expert staff to administer a program matching pro bono lawyers with hundreds of clients. All of our projects ultimately help save taxpayer dollars by mobilizing private resources to help low income individuals to get their lives stabilized so that they can get on their feet. We recruit, train, mentor and support our pro bono volunteers. On the Foreclosure Project we have also been able to partner with two NYU Law School professors, Oscar Chase and David L. Ferstendig, who offered a free civil procedure class to our volunteers this Spring at NYU Law School. We had a large turnout and by all reports it was a wonderful class and a great opportunity to tap the talent at law schools.

The City Bar coordinated the massive mobilization of pro bono attorneys after September 11, and we learned that the volunteers are most efficient when the cases are screened and organized into appropriate categories so that volunteers can feel that they are adequately prepared and trained. As we recruit more attorneys to volunteer in the foreclosure field, adequate training is a lesson we must not forget. Ultimately, more than 4,000 individuals affected by the 9/11 disaster were represented on a pro bono basis by volunteer lawyers. Individual lawyers from all practice areas and from firms of all sizes poured forth to offer pro bono services. Although the scale is not the same, we have seen a similar outpouring of interest to assist people in need during this economic crisis.

Wouldn't it be terrific if the legal community could help thousands of families in this crisis to stop their foreclosure and rewrite their mortgages to be ones they can afford to pay over the next 30 years so their children and grandchildren will have a stable home, and families can build equity for the next generation to get ahead and stabilize the community?

To achieve anything like this scale, we need to have a massive commitment by the lenders and servicers to rewriting subprime and unaffordable loans where property values have fallen. We hope the developments in Washington will advance this goal. While we can provide training, mentoring and supervision to volunteer attorneys, we need the servicers to rewrite the loans and we need the lawyers to advocate for the clients in matters that the housing counselors cannot resolve. Our pro bono foreclosure lawyers have been terrific and have found great satisfaction in giving back to the community. There is no greater satisfaction than the tremendous look of relief on a client's face when you tell her that she and her children can remain in their home — the foreclosure has been stopped. Please join us in this effort. If you would like to volunteer and you are NY licensed attorney, you can reach our Foreclosure Project at 212-382-6648. Our next training is June 15 and 16th at the City Bar.

Now I would like to tell you briefly about Monday Night Law, which is a wonderful model for involving attorneys from all different practice backgrounds, including government service, in hands-on assistance to clients. Monday Night Law is a successful clinic involving rotating teams of pro bono attorneys. It has operated for more than 20 years as a volunteer effort and thousands have been helped. MNL provides legal information to clients with civil legal problems in the consumer, bankruptcy, landlord/tenant, matrimonial, child custody and support and employment areas. It operates ten months of the year and can handle up to 42 appointments at each clinic. Over 1,000 clients a year are helped through MNL. I would like to take a moment to recognize Ann Lesk, President of the New York County Lawyers' Association, who also runs a similar program through NYCLA.

The strength of Monday Night Law is the flexibility of the teams of attorneys and the use of the existing network of hotlines at the City Bar to screen and make appointments. Our Legal Referral Service fills appointments and the clients come from callers to the Service and from the City Bar Justice Center Hotline. Clients are screened for income and a majority of the clients served by Monday Night Law are low income. The team approach allows less experienced attorneys to interview in a pair with a more experienced attorney. While volunteers are asked to commit to every Monday night for one year, if a night has to be missed, others fill in and cover the appointments.

In order to meet the increased need for help, the City Bar is committed to expanding MNL. In 2009 we would like to double the capacity of the project by training more volunteers. The training will take place in early September and will cover all substantive civil areas that MNL offers. We hope that you will join us in this effort to get fast accurate legal assistance to the public.