The Proskauer corporate social responsibility and pro bono blog

Working Towards a Better Future for Veterans With Bloomberg

The Veterans Assistance Project at the City Bar Justice Center (the pro bono arm of the New York City Bar Association) connects lawyers with veterans living on or below the poverty line. It helps veterans with their disability claims and appeals to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA).  Proskauer organized a small group of volunteers in October 2015 to attend an intake clinic at the City Bar, working in pairs to represent a veteran in need. Our effort has since evolved to include more than 90 from both Proskauer and our project partner Bloomberg LP.

In recognition of our contribution, Proskauer and Bloomberg LP were honored with a City Bar Justice Award at the City Bar Justice Center’s Annual Gala in April 2017. We were noted for our leadership and dedication to pro bono and public service, and for joining forces in an effort to help veterans obtain disability benefits from the VA. Proskauer is proud to have dedicated more than 1,500 pro bono hours to these cases.

Kevin Hackett, a corporate partner and veteran himself, spearheaded this volunteer effort. He had the following to say about this project and its great impact.

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Even Strength Shines Light on Employability of Persons With Down Syndrome

Even Strength is an internship program designed to give young adults with Down syndrome the opportunity to work on the game operations staffs of professional sports teams.  Even Strength started as an idea that Jeremy Morin, my brother and professional hockey player, and I had five years ago.  Our uncle, Jeff Morin, is a middle-aged man with Down syndrome.  Throughout our lives and our hockey careers, Uncle Jeff has served as team manager, assistant coach, penalty-box attendant, sports psychologist, and most importantly – as a constant reminder of how individuals with intellectual disabilities both deserve meaningful roles in all of our lives and excel when given the opportunity to fulfill them.

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Confidence Through Competition: High Schoolers Excel in Moot Court

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The night before their moot court competition, the students of Francis Lewis High School were nervous. For nearly two months, twenty students practiced twice weekly, two hours at a time, in front of a rotating group of eight Proskauer attorney coaches. The students read numerous Supreme Court cases and incorporated those cases into an oral argument on behalf of fictional clients. The pretend fact pattern the students were given concerned the constitutionality of a stop-and-frisk of a young woman in a high crime area.  The students’ progress over the two months was palpable. At the beginning, the students spoke for a fraction of the time that they were allotted, their arguments lacked persuasiveness and organization as they spoke reluctantly, with awkward pauses and giggles you might expect from nervous teenagers.  But session after session, those issues vanished.

The students mastered the make-believe fact pattern which at first seemed so complicated.  The formalities of arguing before a panel of judges – which at first seemed daunting – were now innate. And the attorney coaches had become their close mentors and friends.  But the night of the competition, eating cookies around a Proskauer conference room with their coaches, the nerves were back in full force. “What if we can’t remember a case? What if we go blank? What if we embarrass ourselves? What if we lose?”

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Three Ethics Rules To Know Before Taking on a Pro Bono Matter

Lawyers often say that the most rewarding aspect of their careers is providing pro bono services to individuals in need.  While not intending to be comprehensive, the following post provides several examples of ethical issues that may occur in pro bono representation and the rules that guide attorneys facing them.

Scope of Representation.  Who is your client, and what are the parameters of the work that you will be providing to your client?  Equally important, what work will not be done on your client’s behalf?  The New York Rules of Professional Conduct (the “Rules”) permit attorneys to provided “unbundled” or limited-scope legal services to clients, as a way of making at least some legal representation available to greater numbers of people who may need it.  For example, you might have the bandwidth to help a pro bono client with an uncontested divorce, but not to handle a custody trial.  This is completely acceptable, provided such a limitation is reasonable under the circumstances and the client gives informed consent.  (See Rule 1.2(c)).  Whether a limitation in a particular case is reasonable will depend on the facts of the situation, and will require you, as the lawyer, to exercise professional judgment.

Privilege and Confidentiality.  Clients seeking pro bono legal assistance will often want family members or trusted advisors to attend their meetings with you.  Before allowing any third party to sit in on a meeting, you must explain to your client that the attorney-client privilege might be waived.  A high-profile example of the privilege waiver appears in the Martha Stewart case, where Martha’s sharing of an email from her lawyer with her daughter Alexis resulted in that email being admitted in evidence.  In less high-profile matters, particularly those not involving litigation, you may perceive minimal risk in a potential waiver of the privilege, and may advise your client accordingly.  You should also explain to your client that, although the conversation may not be privileged, it is absolutely still confidential.  (See Rule 1.6).  Confidentiality is broader than privilege and is not waived by the presence of a third party.

Clients With Diminished Capacity.  One of the most difficult situations often encountered by lawyers providing pro bono legal services is dealing with clients with diminished capacity.  Rule 1.14 counsels lawyers to maintain a conventional relationship with the client as far as reasonably possible.  If you believe that your client cannot adequately act in his or her own interest, there are several options available to you.  You can consult with entities that might be able to take action to protect the client.  You or another representative can pursue appointment of a guardian ad litem if necessary.  It may be tempting to communicate directly with a family member or friend of the client, and you may do so with your client’s consent, but you should not allow that family member to act as a substitute for the client.  If you need to communicate a material development in the case, you should try to the greatest extent possible to speak with the client directly, rather than providing that information to a family member who may be easier to communicate with.

Fortunately, the ABA has created a number of resources for lawyers in such situations.  See, for example, ABA News, “Who is the client, and other questions in dealing with diminished capacity,” and ABA Commission on Law and Aging, Assessment of Older Adults with Diminished Capacity: A Handbook for Lawyers.

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