The Fund For Modern Courts and Proskauer hosted representatives from a diverse coalition of organizations in New York State and leaders of the state bar at our New York office on May 3 to discuss the necessity of court reform in New York.

The keynote speaker, Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks, laid out three primary areas of concern.  First, he explained that the court’s structure itself, which consists of 11 overlapping trial courts with different levels of jurisdiction, is “confusing, cumbersome, and complicated.”  He stressed that adopting a simplified structure not only would relieve administrative costs but would also better serve the public.  To help illustrate his point, he added that Article VI of the New York Constitution (the highly detailed provision concerning the judiciary) contains 16,000 words as compared to the judiciary article in the U.S. Constitution which contains 375 words.

Helaine Barnett, Chair of the Permanent Commission on Access to Justice, expanded on this point, detailing how important a reorganization would be in the context of Family Court, which, for example, does not have the jurisdiction to order a divorce.  By not providing a single judge with the authority to order all necessary relief, the system increases the cost of litigation, burdens litigants with additional court appearances, and increases the chance for inconsistent decisions.  In short, the harder it is for people, especially those of limited means, to navigate the court system, the greater the chance that they will not have full access to justice.

The second area of concern outlined by Judge Marks is the need for an additional appellate department.  The four existing departments were created in the late nineteenth century when the population was divided equally among them – that is no longer the case.  Today, the Second Department serves roughly half of the state’s population, and as a result is not adequately positioned to deal with the volume of cases.

Third, Judge Marks addressed the State Constitution’s strict formula for the distribution of Supreme Court Justices throughout the state.  That formula, which caps the number of Supreme Court Justices in judicial districts based on population, does not take into account caseload, leaving deficiencies in districts with a large volume of proceedings.  The court system has dealt with this problem through the appointment of acting Supreme Court justices, which draws judges from civil and criminal courts, thereby further burdening those lower courts.  Providing additional Supreme Court Justices where they are needed is a critical reform.

Given the competing demands on the legislature and governor, Judge Marks emphasized the need to develop a political strategy to put court reform, which will require a constitutional amendment, on the “front burner.”  During the event’s Q&A, attendees emphasized the need to build as large a coalition as possible, including especially non-legal groups.

New Yorkers bear a great cost every day as a result of an archaic court structure, and the Fund For Modern Courts, Proskauer and other leading organizations aim to address this issue.  For those interested in learning more about this new coalition, please contact

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Photo of William C. Silverman William C. Silverman

William C. Silverman is a partner responsible for leading Proskauer’s global pro bono efforts, which provide assistance to individual clients and nonprofit organizations in litigation as well as transactional matters. He focuses on identifying and securing pro bono opportunities and partnerships for Proskauer…

William C. Silverman is a partner responsible for leading Proskauer’s global pro bono efforts, which provide assistance to individual clients and nonprofit organizations in litigation as well as transactional matters. He focuses on identifying and securing pro bono opportunities and partnerships for Proskauer lawyers and ensuring widespread participation in these projects.

Bill has robust private and public sector experience and a strong criminal and civil background. He has worked extensively on government investigations and white collar criminal matters, as well as complex civil litigation in federal and state courts. He also served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, where he led criminal investigations, conducted trials and handled Second Circuit appeals.

Throughout his career, Bill has dedicated himself to the promotion of equal access to justice through pro bono service, particularly in the area of family court, anti-trafficking, and immigration.

Bill spearheaded a partnership among several law firms, corporations and the New York City Family Court to provide free legal advice to pro se litigants. The New York City Family Court Volunteer Attorney Program now has more than 400 volunteer attorneys from 40 major firms and corporations. Bill also helped build a coalition of organizations in a successful effort to secure additional Family Court judges in New York. He is now part of an effort spearheaded by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore to simplify the New York Court System from 11 trial courts to three.

Bill serves as counsel to the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition. In that capacity he has been a strong advocate for changes in the law and public policy to protect victims of human trafficking and bring perpetrators to justice. He also represents individual clients in this area, including a successful federal lawsuit brought on behalf of a trafficking victim against her traffickers. For his work, he was named by domestic violence nonprofit Sanctuary For Families as one of “New York’s New Abolitionists.”

Bill has spoken at numerous conferences and events, including New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s Hearings on Civil Legal Services and the American Bar Association’s Equal Justice Conference. In 2014, he attended a meeting at the White House with Vice President Joe Biden and other policymakers on the need for access to legal services in immigration proceedings.

Bill has been recognized for his public service with the Abely Pro Bono Leadership Award from Sanctuary For Families and Columbia Law School (2019); the Special Leadership Award for All-Around Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility & the Law from City & State Reports (2015); the Commitment to Justice Award for Outstanding Partner from inMotion (2008); and the Matthew G. Leonard Award for Outstanding Pro Bono Achievement from MFY Legal Services (2007).

Outside of his work at the firm, Bill serves on various committees and non-profit boards. Bill is currently chairman of the Fund for Modern Courts, a non-partisan citizen organization devoted to improving New York State courts, and is formerly chairman of Legal Information For Families Today (LIFT), an organization devoted to unrepresented litigants in Family Court.