The Proskauer corporate social responsibility and pro bono blog

Mentoring in Public Schools with Read Ahead

There are more than one million students enrolled in New York City public schools, making it the largest school system in the United States. Yet each student enrolled is unique and enters school each day with varying needs. Thus, there is a general consensus that providing targeted and individualized support to students is crucial to their academic success. Furthermore, implementing this support early in their education can impact students during critical stages in their development and benefit their academic performance for years to come.

Since 2015, I have served on the junior board for Read Ahead, a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that New York City elementary school students have the skills they need for academic and life-long success. Read Ahead’s program is centered on one-on-one lunchtime reading-based mentoring sessions between students and volunteer mentors. Students are recommended by their teachers or school staff to participate in the program because they are reading below grade level, English Language Learners, or in need of social or emotional support to boost their self-confidence, their classroom performance, or their interest in reading. Continue Reading

The Right to Counsel in Civil Proceedings: An International Perspective

In the United States, people of limited means suffer a tremendous unmet need for legal services in civil proceedings. Why does the United States fall so far behind in providing that service in comparison with other western democracies?

Background on the Right to Counsel

In 1963, the Supreme Court decided Gideon v. Wainwright, the landmark Sixth Amendment decision requiring that states provide legal counsel for indigent criminal defendants. No such right to counsel, however, has been established in civil proceedings despite the fact that for many low-income individuals, the outcome of certain civil legal proceedings can have an impact as significant, lasting, and life-altering as some criminal cases.

In the absence of a federally recognized right to counsel in civil matters, state and local authorities have been primarily responsible for protecting the rights of low-income individuals in civil proceedings where they see fit.  As a result, the provision of free legal services differs greatly from state to state, and even within a given state.

A 2017 study demonstrated that 71% of low-income households experienced at least one civil legal problem that year, including health care, housing conditions, veterans’ benefits, disability access, and domestic violence matters. In 86% of those civil legal problems, low-income Americans “received inadequate or no legal help.” In addition, in over three-fourths of all civil trials in the United States, at least one litigant does not have legal representation. Continue Reading

The Proposal to Simplify New York’s Court Structure

Chief Judge Janet DiFiore’s call during her recent state of the judiciary address to “modernize” New York’s court system by reforming its complicated structure, has energized a growing grassroots effort across the state.  Since her speech at the end of February, dozens of groups and organizations, including representatives from a wide variety of New York State business associations, good government groups, advocates against domestic violence, legal service providers and bar associations, have come together to form a coalition for court simplification. Legislators are also now focusing on the issue.  State Senator Brad Hoylman, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, recently told The New York Law Journal, “I’m actually digging into the issue and figuring out a way to hold hearings and move these proposals forward.”

The current court structure — made up of 11 separate trial courts with varying jurisdictions — is complex and costly, and adversely affects all litigants, both private citizens and businesses. It especially impacts the poor and unrepresented, who are expected to navigate the limited jurisdiction of these different courts with their different procedures and rules, in order to pursue claims (or defend against them) simultaneously in more than one forum. For example, matrimonial matters may not be heard in Family Court but only in Supreme Court, thereby leaving families with no choice but to litigate related issues in both courts simultaneously.  Should there be any criminal or housing issues involved as well, those would have to be resolved in two other courts. Similarly, claims seeking damages against the state can only be heard in the Court of Claims, which has no jurisdiction over any city, county, or town government, or over any individual defendant.  Continue Reading

Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts to Honor Proskauer with Founders Award

A lot has changed since 1969 when a handful of junior associates at Proskauer created Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (VLA):  the world had about half the population it has now, the price of gasoline was around 35 cents per gallon, and the Jets won the Super Bowl.  One thing that hasn’t changed since then, however, is the need among low income artists and arts-related non-profit organizations for pro bono legal services.

In light of VLA’s 50th anniversary gala on April 2nd, where Proskauer will be honored with the organization’s “Founders Award,” we asked a number of Proskauer lawyers to reflect on their experience with VLA. Continue Reading

How Changes in Immigration Policy Impact Pro Bono Work

U.S. immigration policy has changed quickly and substantially in the past two years. While a handful of policies have received the majority of media attention—such as the separation of families at the border—the Department of Homeland Security has implemented numerous, far less visible changes that have dramatically impacted the ability to seek immigration relief in this country. These policy changes have transformed the way in which lawyers and their pro bono clients must navigate the immigration system.

Accounting for Unpredictability

As a result of the exceedingly fast changes to immigration policy, it has become increasingly challenging to predict a client’s likelihood of obtaining certain types of immigration relief or to assess the risks associated with attempting to do so.

For example, in October 2018, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began implementing a new policy that mandates USCIS to issue Notices to Appear (NTA) in immigration court removal proceedings upon making an unfavorable decision on an immigration application where the applicant is an undocumented immigrant.  This far-reaching guidance would, for instance, encompass vulnerable undocumented victims of domestic abuse seeking humanitarian-based relief, thus creating a perverse disincentive for them to come forward and cooperate with law enforcement.  In June 2018, the Attorney General’s decision in Matter of A-B- purported to make it harder for immigrants to qualify for asylum based on gang or domestic violence, a decision that was, in turn, blocked in December by a federal judge in Washington, D.C. Continue Reading

Baited, Abused, and Jailed: The Silent Plight of Human Trafficking Victims

Thousands of women in the United States, who never knowingly or intentionally entered the sex industry, find themselves trapped in a world of unspeakable abuse. These women, whether in illicit massage parlors or other abhorrent situations, are routinely arrested despite being the victims – while traffickers and buyers with actual culpability routinely are not.

To understand their plight, imagine you are a single parent with three children, recently unemployed, and faced with mounting debt.  You see an online advertisement for a work opportunity in a neighboring country with a thriving restaurant industry.  You can split rent with other workers, send home earnings, and return to your children as soon as your debts are repaid.  To sweeten the offer, the employment agency covers airfare, handles immigration papers, secures an employer, and arranges housing, all at a fee that you can pay off over the course of your work engagement.  It seems your prayers have been answered; you leave hopeful and determined for the United States. Continue Reading

Proskauer Partners with HSBC Bank in Chicago to Host DACA Renewal Clinic

Last week, Proskauer’s Chicago office, in partnership with HSBC Bank (HSBC), hosted a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) clinic to assist 12 pro bono clients with preparing their DACA renewal applications.

The DACA program provides eligible, undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before the age of 16 with a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation, along with work authorization and the ability to apply for a social security number.  While the United States government is not currently accepting DACA applications from new enrollees, individuals who are currently on deferred action status can re-apply to maintain their status. Continue Reading

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