The Proskauer corporate social responsibility and pro bono blog

NY Appellate Division Decision Provides Equity for Guardians of Limited Means

Last week, Proskauer obtained a critical victory for our client—a grandmother acting as guardian for her two learning-disabled grandchildren—in an appeal to the Appellate Division, First Department.  The appeal challenged a lower court holding that an amendment to New York’s Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program (“KinGAP”) did not apply retroactively to beneficiaries, such as our client’s grandchildren, who entered the program before the amendment took effect.

KinGAP, established in 2011, enables foster-care children for whom returning home or adoption are not available options, to achieve a permanent placement with a guardian relative.  To subsidize the costs of caregiving for guardians of limited means such as our client, KinGAP provides monthly assistance payments pursuant to a statutorily prescribed form of agreement between the guardian and a local department of social services.

When our client entered into a KinGAP agreement in 2014, New York Social Services Law § 458-b(7)(a) made the duration of the subsidy dependent on whether the agreement was entered into before or after the child’s 16th birthday.  Continued assistance payments were available beyond the age of 18 only if the agreement commenced after the child was already 16 years of age.  Section 458-b(7)(a) thus drew a distinction between foster parents and adoptive parents on the one hand and guardians on the other because foster and adoptive children were entitled to assistance payments until they turned 21 notwithstanding their age at the time their subsidy agreements were commenced. Continue Reading

Justice in the Internet Age: Legal Access for Rural Americans

Thanks to advances in technology, the fight for equal access to justice has the potential of making enormous strides. A great example is the project Proskauer helped spearhead with the nonprofit Legal Information for Families Today (LIFT), which is now connecting pro se litigants in family court throughout New York State with pro bono services through a convenient online platform. Programs like this represent a tremendous leap forward in ensuring adequate legal guidance regardless of one’s location, but the requirement of sufficient internet access leaves some in the dark.

The lack of sufficient, reliable internet connectivity disproportionately affects rural Americans – a disparity New York State calls “the digital divide.” In a recent report issued by Albany Law School, 573 rural lawyers were surveyed about the various challenges they face. Of significance, “the survey revealed repeated complaints about rural broadband/internet access and technology communication shortcomings in rural communities.”  A subpar technology infrastructure increases the cost of operation for these practitioners, especially when it comes to the many hours of driving that could be avoided if high-speed internet services and reliable cellphone service were universally available.   Continue Reading

Pro Bono for Immigrant Families: Shutting off Asylum at the Southern Border

When I volunteered in Mexico last spring with two Proskauer colleagues alongside the Institute for Women in Migration (IMUMI), I witnessed a growing humanitarian crisis. The U.S. “Remain in Mexico” Policy – officially called the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) – requires asylum seekers at the southern border to wait in Mexico for the duration of their U.S. immigration proceedings, a requirement that puts thousands of people in danger. A report issued last week by Human Rights First confirms the danger by detailing current conditions faced by the more than 60,000 migrants now waiting in Mexico. In particular, the report finds: Continue Reading

A Promise to My Father: Helping One Veteran at a Time

My father, Colonel John J. Cassidy is a highly decorated Vietnam veteran. Last Wednesday, I celebrated his birthday and honored his service by volunteering at the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Veterans Legal Services Project clinic. It was a coincidence that Proskauer’s sponsorship of the clinic fell on my dad’s birthday, but the connection between my father and my involvement in the clinic has deep roots. I participate in the clinic because of my dad – to fulfill a promise I once made him.

My father administered my oath of office when I was commissioned to the Navy in 1992. In the years that followed, I relied heavily on his advice to find my way through the triumphs and trials of a young Naval officer. After completing my active service, I went to law school, raised a family and built my legal career. My father’s advice was still relevant to the business world and served to guide many of my steps along the way to becoming a partner at Proskauer. Continue Reading

Criminal Justice Reform in America: Shifting Attitudes on Incarceration

Last month, the U.S. state with the highest rate of incarceration (in the country with the largest prison population) took steps to reduce its incarceration of non-violent offenders.

Oklahoma’s Governor Kevin Stitt (Republican) commuted the sentences of over 500 inmates. All of these individuals were non-violent offenders with an average age of less than 40. This decision points to a larger shift in conventional wisdom concerning mass incarceration and its effect on public safety.

A 2017 study by the Vera Institute of Justice demonstrates the weak correlation over the past 40 years between incarceration and public safety. Out of concern for the skyrocketing cost of overcrowded prisons, cost-conscious public officials have joined with those desiring a less punitive, equitable system to rethink criminal justice in America. A consensus is building around the need to start directing resources to rehabilitation as opposed to incarceration. According to Governor Stitt, “[the goal] has been about changing the culture and process as we prepare to release individuals and to help set them up for success upon reentry into society.” Continue Reading

Proskauer Joins Forces with Minds Matter Boston to Help Students from Low-Income Backgrounds Attend College

Every year, a staggering number of bright minds do not attend college as a result of their family’s financial circumstances.  Minds Matter confronts this issue head on by offering a comprehensive and highly successful three-year program that empowers young people from low-income families to achieve college readiness and success.

With 13 chapters and approximately 1,900 volunteers nationwide, Minds Matter provides students with a variety of resources, including, among other things, individualized mentor support, ACT prep, writing instruction, access to experts on college admission and financial aid, and summer enrichment programs.  The impact Minds Matter has had on their students, all of whom have a family income of less than $25,000, is astounding: since 1991, when the organization was formed, 100% of their graduates have gained admission to a four-year college or university. Continue Reading

Transforming Lives Through Her Justice

I recently joined the board of Her Justice, a nonprofit legal services organization in New York City and longtime partner of Proskauer that provides assistance to women and their families living in poverty who have high-stakes legal needs.

I was introduced to the organization by a friend and former colleague, and over the past few years have come to understand their mission and approach.  Seeing the many women in our city experiencing pain and fear due to unaffordable housing, parenting children with insufficient income or job prospects, abandonment, and abuse, I felt compelled to become more involved.

The staff lawyers at Her Justice train and supervise thousands of volunteer lawyers who are mobilized to help women in need throughout New York City. In 2018 alone, Her Justice organized more than 76,000 volunteer hours helping nearly 10,000 women and children.  Continue Reading

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