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Newsletter: Spring 2009

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News & Media

City Bar Justice Center Spring 2009 Newsletter

Help for Deferred Associates, Law Firms, and Strapped Public Interest Organizations
Get Involved - Varick Street "Know Your Rights" Immigration Project
Opportunities for Summer Associates
Hard Work Pays Off at Howrey - A Veterans Assistance Project Success Story
Chapter 13 Foreclosure Prevention Initiative
New Small Business Resource for Persons with Criminal Convictions
City Bar Justice Center Launches New Web Site
Upcoming Trainings and Clinics

The Scots are Coming!

Help for Deferred Associates, Law Firms, and Strapped Public Interest Organizations

In response to the economic crisis, several large firms are offering stipends to incoming associates to defer their start date in order to work for up to a year at a public-interest legal services provider. Based on their strong ties to firms and nonprofits, the City Bar and the Justice Center are playing a matchmaking role.

Our participation began in early March, when we worked with the New York State Interest on Lawyer Accounts Fund (IOLA) to survey New York nonprofits on their needs and their willingness to host law firm deferred associates. A database was set up listing over 200 available positions at 43 public-interest organizations, in areas including housing, health issues, immigration, environmental issues, domestic violence, criminal defense, family law, veterans' advocacy and more. We hosted a lively roundtable discussion for law firms and the public interest organizations in early April. 

The openings are posted at: http://www.nycbar.org/Fellowship_Opportunities.htm

It is hoped that the database will help all who are being affected by the economy, including incoming associates and their firms, and especially low-income New Yorkers who face a reduction in available legal services due to lower IOLA receipts and budget cuts.

The City Bar Justice Center will also be hosting deferred associates in the coming year. 

Get Involved — Varick Street "Know Your Rights" Immigration Project

Did you know that there is still no right to government-financed counsel for immigrants locked up in U.S. detention facilities and facing the risk of permanent removal from the country regardless of how long they have lived here or whether they are the breadwinner for U.S. citizen family members? 

The City Bar Justice Center, in collaboration with the Pro Bono Committee of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) New York Chapter and the Legal Aid Society, has launched the "NYC Know Your Rights" project at the Varick Street Detention Facility in downtown Manhattan.

The project provides access to legal advice and information for detainees by recruiting and training private law firm volunteers to staff a weekly legal clinic at the facility. The first training of 42 attorneys was held this past December, with pilot clinics held the following two weeks. Six clinics were held in the first quarter of 2009, run by 56 volunteer lawyers and 10 paralegals and assistants working with 23 AILA mentors. Of the initial detainees interviewed during the pilot phase we found 38% had possible claims to relief. 

"We've also learned that Wall Street lawyers, with modest training and mentoring from an immigration expert, can absolutely do this work," said Lynn M. Kelly, Executive Director of the City Bar Justice Center. She added "There is a tremendous need for lawyers to volunteer to counsel detainees at Varick Street because many are being shipped to other facilities with even less access to attorneys. They need to know if they should be fighting to stay or if they have no valid legal claim."

We congratulate and recognize the extraordinary efforts of the six participating firms at launch: Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, LLP; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP; Seward & Kissel LLP; McKee Nelson; and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. Their participation has laid the groundwork for expansion.  We asked some of the team leaders from the firms about their experience working on the project:

"I liked the idea that we could actually go and meet with the detainees—on the front lines, as it were—rather than just work for them second-hand."
Chris Tatarowicz, McKee Nelson

"It was good to see detainees being told what was going on, to have someone working for them who knows how to go through the process."

Sehar Siddiqi, Seward & Kissell LLP

"While many seem to have no hope, we were able to screen and identify many with legitimate legal claims who would have nowhere to turn without us."

Rene Kathawala, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP

"We have a strong pro bono asylum program at Skadden, so the project has been a great fit for us. It is wonderful that the City Bar is devoting time to this cause. The fact that the facility is in Manhattan makes it easier for attorneys to get involved."  

Lauren Uhlig, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP

The second training took place on May 5, 2009 at the City Bar Justice Center. Nine new law firms sent trainees and additional attorneys from AILA attended the training. We are currently scheduling clinics at the Varick facility for the next six months. If your firm would like to get involved, please contact Helen Poitra-Chalmers at 212.382.6727 or hpoitra-chalmers@nycbar.org. Training materials are available on CD for use by any firm committing to staffing the clinic once a month for six months. 

Opportunities for Summer Associates

Looking for projects for summer associates at your firm? Please contact Carol Bockner, Director of Pro Bono initiatives, cbockner@nycbar.org. Once again, the City Bar Justice Center is coordinating a pro bono project for summer associates with the Housing Court. This is terrific experience for law students interested in Litigation and Housing issues.

The NYC Know Your Rights Project discussed above is also an excellent opportunity for summer associates to partner with a trained attorney from your firm to conduct interviews at the Varick detention facility. This opportunity is particularly attractive for law students interested in Global Human Rights. Please contact hpoitra-chalmers@nycbar.org for more information on participating in this project.

Hard Work Pays Off at Howrey – A Veterans Assistance Project Success Story

When Mr. L., a Vietnam veteran, came to the Justice Center's Veteran's Assistance Project in the fall of 2007, he had already been attempting to gain disability benefits for more than two years. His chief disability is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), caused by the routine mortar and rocket attacks he endured while stationed at Tuy Hoa Air Force Base in Vietnam. Despite being diagnosed and treated at the Brooklyn Veterans Affairs hospital for PTSD, Mr. L.'s case worked its way through two VA administrative levels, and was denied both times based on lack of corroborative evidence. As he was assigned to a special operations unit, Mr. L.'s personnel record does not plainly indicate an assignment to Tuy Hoa. Bill Purcell  and Charles Manice, a partner and then first-year associate at Howrey LLP, one of the 11 firms that helped to found the Veteran's Assistance Project, took on representation of Mr. L. After extensive research, they were able to find new military evidence that placed Mr. L. on Tuy Hoa base at the time of attacks. The volunteers also obtained an affidavit from a fellow service member placing Mr. L. at the scene of the stressful events.

In order to maintain a June 15, 2005 effective award date, Howrey prepared a Motion for Reconsideration based upon error and new military evidence, and submitted it to the Chairman of the Board of Veterans Appeals. In an important recognition of Mr. L.'s service and the attorneys' hard work, the Board granted Mr. L.'s Motion to Reconsider. After the submission of additional evidence and argument, an expanded panel of the Board of Veterans Appeals recognized that Mr. L. has service-related PTSD.

In November 2008, Mr. L. began receiving $845 a month with an additional $28,000 in back-dated pay. Most attorneys would have been satisfied with such a big win, but while Charles Manice was excited, he called it an incomplete victory. The VA had rated Mr. L.'s disability at 50%, not 100%, which means he will receive benefits at 50% retroactive to 2005. But Charles notes, "I will not close this case until I have exhausted all appeals to obtain 100% disability for him."

Carol Bockner, Director of Pro Bono Initiatives at the City Bar Justice Center, raves about Howrey's work. "Bill Purcell has been a huge supporter of the Project from the very beginning and continues to take cases while mentoring younger attorneys," she says. "We are incredibly grateful to Charles for his tireless work on this and other cases," she continues. "With his assistance, Mr. L. was awarded not only a life-changing monetary reward, but also long-sought recognition from the VA of his experiences in Vietnam. Charles' unwillingness to close the case after the first win shows a commitment to thorough representation of Mr. L. like that to any paying client. That sort of excellence in pro bono is a reflection of both the individual and the culture of the firm. It speaks very highly of Howrey, and we look forward to a long relationship with the firm and its attorneys."

Chapter 13 Foreclosure Prevention Initiative

In an effort to assist low to moderate income New York homeowners who are being overwhelmed by the spreading epidemic of home foreclosures, the City Bar Justice Center has been awarded a one-year grant from the New York State Department of Banking to establish a Chapter 13 Foreclosure Prevention Initiative as part of its Pro Bono Consumer Bankruptcy Project. The program started in November 2008 and is headed by Tamiko Overton, a bankruptcy specialist. To meet the demand for services, the program's first effort was to recruit and train pro bono volunteers to assist the program staff. A free Chapter 13 CLE training program was held in December 2008 and was attended by 95 prospective volunteers.

Over 50 clients have already received advice or extended legal assistance. In order to reach more people, the staff has done community outreach, including "Know Your Rights" presentations to community groups and screening of prospective clients at the Pro Se Clerk's Office in the Bankruptcy Court of the Eastern District of New York.

The clients who are seeking assistance from the program are faced with serious and complex issues surrounding the possible loss of their homes. The goal is to save their homes whenever possible.

One recent example involves Mrs. F. and her family, who came to us through the outreach program at the Bankruptcy Court of the Eastern District of New York. Mrs. F. owned a two-family house where she lived with her two young children, with the rent she collected from a tenant  allowing her to pay the mortgage. Unfortunately, Mrs. F. fell ill and was not able to work for some time. Then the tenant stopped paying rent, resulting in Mrs. F's falling behind on her mortgage and facing foreclosure. In an attempt to stop a pending foreclosure sale, she filed a Chapter 13 case on her own but was in danger of having her case dismissed and didn't know what to do next. The City Bar Justice Center helped her complete the missing schedules and documents and agreed to represent her on the rest of the case. Ms. F. has returned to work and is making all the payments to the bankruptcy trustee and the bank. The foreclosure has been stopped, and the client and her children are on the road to saving their home.

New Small Business Resource for Persons with Criminal Convictions

With the support of The John Merck Fund, the City Bar Justice Center has produced a user-friendly "Small Business Toolkit" that provides persons with criminal convictions, and the community organizations that serve them, with vital legal education and hands-on information on the laws and rights governing getting a job, obtaining a license, protecting intellectual property, starting a small business and choosing a business structure.

It also provides an extensive list of appropriate resources in New York City. An online version of this toolkit is available at  www.CityBarJusticeCenter.org. The Justice Center's Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project collaborated on the project.

Find What You Need at the Redesigned Justice Center Web Site

The Justice Center's Web site, www.CityBarJusticeCenter.org, has been redesigned to make it more useful for volunteers and other stakeholders. Among the new features, volunteer lawyers will now have access to a password-protected Document Center for downloading forms and sample filings. Expandable menus make browsing the Justice Center's projects easier. And new technology upgrades make it easier to aggregate and share Justice Center content.

Upcoming Trainings and Clinics

The Veterans Assistance Project is holding a clinic on June 30th from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.  Volunteer attorneys will meet with veterans to conduct intake interviews and help file claims and appeals with the Department of Veterans Affairs. If interested, please contact Laura Kolesar at lkolesar@nycbar.org

The Lawyers Foreclosure Intervention Network is holding a training on June 17th (8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and 18th (8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.). In addition to reviewing basic foreclosure defense, the training will focus on handling settlement conferences under the recent State legislation mandating them, and applying for loan modifications under President Obama's new plan, "Making Homes Affordable." If interested, please contact Ben Seibel at bseibel@nycbar.org

A Housing Court Training will be held on May 30th at 111 Centre Street from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for all interested volunteers. For more information, contact Emily Morales, Special Counsel, at 646.386.3769.

The Refugee Assistance Project is holding its annual training on June 9th. The training is full, but anyone interested in being added to the waiting list should contact Martin York at myork@nycbar.org

The Scots are Coming!

On July 21st, the Faculty of Advocates Choir of Edinburgh, Scotland, which has sung at St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican and Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, joins the City Bar Chorus for the first time, in a festive concert marking the 213th anniversary of the death of Scotland's legendary poet Robert Burns.  The choruses, which found each other through the Internet, will present, individually and combined, American and Scottish songs (with some Scottish poetry added to the mix) in a program conducted by Kathryn Schneider and Neil Beynon.  All City Bar members and friends are cordially invited to attend this concert -- July 21, 2009, at 7:15 pm at the House of the Association -- and to welcome the Faculty of Advocates Choir on its first trip to New York.  Voluntary donations will be gratefully accepted to benefit the City Bar Justice Center.