COVID-19 has been catastrophic for the wellbeing of low-income Americans, particularly in communities of color. The costs to health and human life have been devastating and the substantial collateral damage on the financial and social fabric of the country is expected to be felt into 2021 and beyond. One of this country’s leading hospitals, Mount Sinai, is addressing the legal needs of its patients through the Mount Sinai Medical Legal Partnership (MSMLP).  Serving one of the most diverse populations of any hospital, MSMLP addresses critical and urgent legal needs that may be affecting a patient’s health such as income maintenance, housing, education and employment, legal status and personal and family stability. This vital work is needed now more than ever.

To this end, Bloomberg and Proskauer are sponsoring Equal Justice Works Fellow Rita Gilles who will work at MSMLP under the supervision of the LegalHealth division of New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG). Rita, a recent graduate of Yale Law School, will provide legal aid to low-income families of children and adolescent patients at Mount Sinai.

At a virtual kick-off event last week, lawyers and staff from Bloomberg and Proskauer came together to make a commitment to the initiative beyond simple sponsorship: Rita will play a key role in identifying and overseeing pro bono matters for Bloomberg and Proskauer lawyers tackling serious legal issues facing patients. With a demonstrated rise in unemployment, poverty, and food insecurity along with an increasing number of people facing eviction over the coming months, the corresponding legal needs have continued to mount.

These legal needs are typically identified by training medical providers to flag potential social determinants of health (SDOH), which include a patient’s socioeconomic status, physical environment, health behaviors, and health care quality. Accordingly, a patient may require assistance with disputing an eviction, securing Social Security benefits, or filing an order of protection against a perpetrator of abuse, among many other problems necessitating the intervention of an attorney. For example, a Mount Sinai doctor may notice a persistent respiratory problem in one of their patients, raising a question regarding the patient’s home environment; the patient reveals rampant, unaddressed mold in their apartment, prompting the connection to MSMLP for a pro bono legal professional’s support in pursuing a housing repair action in Housing Court.

This partnership among several institutions, focusing on the legal needs that affect the health and safety of those most vulnerable, is critically important during a time of crisis but will be no less important to sustain post pandemic. Rita’s fellowship is a great example of the vital role of the private sector in securing equal access to justice.

Proskauer is grateful to Bloomberg for its leadership. We further acknowledge and thank Allison Charney (Executive Director of MSMLP), Beth Essig (Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Mount Sinai), Eric Hassell (NYLAG) and Krista Selnau (Equal Justice Works) who all made this important initiative possible. Proskauer labor and employment partners Betsy Plevan and Harris Mufson are spearheading this effort as board members of MSMLP.

Email this postTweet this postLike this postShare this post on LinkedIn
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.