During the COVID-19 pandemic, Rita Gilles, an Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Bloomberg and Proskauer, has observed firsthand the heroic dedication and sacrifice of frontline workers, especially the health care staff at Mount Sinai Health System who are now dealing with another challenging winter. For those in or near poverty the pandemic has been particularly cruel, not only directly affecting the health of thousands but also undermining various social determinants of health, including income, housing, education, employment, and family stability.  Rita has helped tackle these challenges for patients at Mount Sinai. A year out of Yale Law School, Rita works at the Mount Sinai Medical Legal Partnership (MSMLP) under the supervision of the LegalHealth division of New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) serving low-income families of children and adolescent patients at Mount Sinai. Now that Rita is halfway through her two-year fellowship, we checked in for an update.

Over the past year, Rita has seen growing demand for legal services. While the economy is now strong, the recovery has been uneven with a growing number of lower income individuals facing unemployment and food insecurity. Currently, Rita is handling about 50 matters on a variety of subjects including housing, immigration, education, disability benefits, and family law. Her clients are referred to her by staff at the hospital trained to identify legal issues that have a nexus to healthcare. For example, living with mold in one’s apartment can have serious health implications but is also a potentially addressable legal issue. Another prime example — securing disability benefits — is an area where Bloomberg and Proskauer lawyers have assisted Rita through pro bono work. We have seen for ourselves that securing this additional income often has a profound impact on the health and safety of an entire family.

In addition to believing strongly in medical-legal partnerships as a vitally important part of a holistic approach to health care, Rita is a strong advocate for the power of Equal Justice Works. There are far too few entry-level job opportunities for recent law school graduates pursuing careers in public service. Rita was able to design her own fellowship and then receive not only funding but also the active engagement of her funders. Rita believes that an EJW fellowship, especially now, is an important and impactful public service model that every firm should consider pursuing.

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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.