John S. Kiernan has been nominated as President of the New York City Bar Association. If elected, Kiernan will succeed Debra L. Raskin as the 67th president in the Association’s 145-year history. The election will take place at the City Bar’s annual meeting on May 17, 2016. The City Bar also announced its Nominating Committee’s slate of officers and new members of its Executive Committee.

Kiernan, a partner at the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton, has been Co-Chair of the firm’s Litigation Department since 2002 and Chair of its Ethics Committee since 1994.
His practice has included a wide range of commercial and quasi-commercial litigations, arbitration, risk analyses and negotiations involving private disputes, governance and fiduciary duties, intellectual property rights‎, class actions or o‎ther mass claims, and actions by and against government entities.

At the City Bar, Kiernan has served on the Executive Committee and chaired several committees, and was on the Board of Directors of the City Bar Fund. He was recently appointed by New York’s Chief Judge to serve on a Committee on Non-Lawyers and the Justice Gap. He is the Board Chair of Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York and Chair of the International Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution (“CPR”). He previously chaired the Boards of Legal Services NYC, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Volunteers of Legal Service, the Justice Resource Center and the New York City Bankruptcy Assistance Project (which he co-founded). He was the Mayor of Pelham Manor, NY, from 1999-2001 and is currently an Adjunct Professor at NYU School of Law.

“It is a great honor to be nominated as president of the New York City Bar Association,” said Kiernan. “As an active member throughout my career, I have witnessed and admired the City Bar’s capacity for positive impact on the justice system, on the legal profession and on society in New York, nationally and around the world.”

Sheila S. Boston, of Kaye Scholer LLP; Hallie Levin, of Friedman Kaplan Seiler & Adelman LLP; and Roger Maldonado, of Balber Pickard Maldonado & Van Der Tuin PC, were nominated to serve as the City Bar’s three Vice Presidents.

Ira Feinberg, of Hogan Lovells US LLP, was nominated to serve as Secretary, and Damian Schaible, of Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, was nominated to continue to serve as Treasurer.

The nominees for the Executive Committee Class of 2020 are Joseph M. Drayton, of Cooley LLP; Mei Lin Kwan-Gett, of Citigroup; Hon. Andrea Masley, of the NY State Supreme Court; and Rebecca Lynn Mendel, of Rosin Steinhagen Mendel.

The candidates were nominated by the City Bar’s Nominating Committee: Samuel W. Seymour, Chair, of Sullivan & Cromwell LLP; Jane E. Booth, of Columbia University; Hon. Vernon S. Broderick, of the U.S. District Court (SDNY); Lynn K. Neuner, of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP; Hon. Sidney H. Stein, of the U.S. District Court (SDNY); Jeffrey S. Trachtman, of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP; and Hon. Lillian Wan, of the Kings County Family Court.


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You have been much on our minds at the New York City Bar Association. In recent years, we have offered increased opportunities for you to network, develop your career, position yourself to land a job, hone your skills, participate in committee work, and enjoy yourself with new colleagues and friends.

In 2012, under the leadership of my predecessor Carey Dunne, the City Bar formed the Task Force on New Lawyers in a Changing Profession to find more and better ways to prepare you to thrive in a progressively tougher legal field.

By the way, notice I address you as “new” lawyer, not “young” lawyer. That’s because not all new lawyers are necessarily young.

The report of the Task Force, which was chaired by Mark Morril, included four initiatives, and I am pleased to report on the City Bar’s continuing work on all of them.

The City Bar New Lawyer Institute was created in response to the Task Force’s finding that current legal education models do not necessarily fully prepare new lawyers like you to enter the workforce. The Institute, which runs from August through May, has just kicked off its second year and has quickly become a valuable resource for your peers. Great thanks go to this year’s sponsoring law schools: Brooklyn Law School, Cardozo Law School, Columbia Law School, CUNY School of Law, Fordham Law School, Hofstra Law School, New York Law School, and UConn School of Law.

The Task Force also recommended a review of the New York bar exam to assess whether it was testing your competencies in the right way in an increasingly national and global legal profession. The City Bar’s Council on the Profession undertook that review and, as a result, supported Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s proposal to institute the Uniform Bar Exam in New York beginning in July 2016. The Chief Judge included a procedure for evaluating the exam’s impact on different demographic groups, as the Task Force had proposed, to ensure that the UBE does not have a disparate impact on historically disadvantaged individuals.

The Task Force also determined that “bridge-to-practice” programs would provide valuable training and employment opportunities for law students and new lawyers while easing the burden of their law school-related expenses. Accordingly, the City Bar had identified major government and private sector employers willing to participate in such programs where students are given academic credit for full-time work. However, the ABA’s rules currently prohibit law students from receiving both pay and academic credit for externships with for-profit employers. The City Bar is strongly supporting a change in those rules.

Finally, and most ambitiously, the City Bar along with the CUNY School of Law and 19 law firms recently announced the creation of the Court Square Law Project. Set to launch in 2016, the Project will be a law firm for persons of moderate means whose income exceeds legal services guidelines but who plainly cannot afford the services of traditional law firms. The project will be staffed by new lawyers under the supervision of experienced attorneys, enrolling ten new attorney-fellows in two-year fellowships in each of the first four years of the five-year pilot program. Participants will receive a stipend as they get the training and experience they’ll need to transition to a self-sustaining law practice after two years. ­

I think it’s an inspired response to two current phenomena: A perceived “oversupply” of lawyers who are having difficulty finding work, and the great numbers of middle-class people who can’t pay market legal rates.

Supply, meet demand. According to an ABA survey, nearly two-thirds of American households with legal issues did not seek the assistance of a lawyer. Fully 99% of clients in eviction and consumer credit cases are unrepresented, the City Bar Task Force reported. That shocking underrepresentation persists despite the well-documented disparity of outcomes between litigants who have legal assistance in  housing, bankruptcy, immigration, and other such critical matters, and those who do not.

Enter the Court Square Law Project. The initiative, which will be open to graduates of all law schools, will be housed at and benefit from the resources of the new CUNY School of Law campus in Long Island City. For clients who would otherwise have gone without representation, the Court Square Law Project will be a game-changer. And to the extent that the model is seen as an idea whose time has come and is replicated elsewhere, the Project has the potential to be a culture changer as well.

Special thanks go to CUNY School of Law Dean and Professor Michelle Anderson, who chairs the Court Square Law Project Executive Committee, and to Task Force members Bradley Butwin, Chair of O’Melveny & Meyers; Eric J. Friedman, Chair of Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom; and Brad Karp, Chair of Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison, for their leadership in organizing the New York City law firm community to contribute start-up funding for CSLP.

Finally, great thanks to the Founding Sponsor law firms, each of which has pledged an extraordinarily generous $100,000 to launch the Court Square Law Project: Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP; Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP; Debevoise & Plimpton LLP; Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP; Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP; Kirkland & Ellis LLP; Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP; Latham & Watkins LLP; Morgan, Lewis & Bockius; O’Melveny & Myers LLP; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP; Proskauer Rose LLP; Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP; Shearman & Sterling LLP; Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP; Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz LLP, and Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP; and Winston & Strawn LLP.

Debra L. Raskin is President of the New York City Bar Association.


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The New York City Bar Association, the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law, and the New York City “BigLaw” community have forged a unique partnership to address the persistent justice gap in America and the professional crisis that continues to affect new lawyers. These groups today announced the launch of the Court Square Law Project to train and deploy new lawyers to deliver legal services to persons of moderate means in areas of chronic underrepresentation. The Court Square Law Project will accept applications later this fall from recent graduates of any law school who are admitted to practice in New York State. It will be housed in Court Square, Long Island City, at CUNY School of Law, which will provide a special graduate law program for participants. Nineteen “Founding Sponsor” law firms have each pledged $100,000 in start-up funding for the venture.

The Court Square Law Project is designed to address issues raised in the report of the City Bar’s Task Force on New Lawyers in a Changing Profession, Developing Legal Careers and Delivering Justice in the 21st Century (read the report here:

Debra L. Raskin, president of the New York City Bar Association, said, “Our groundbreaking Court Square Law Project will address both a crisis in the legal profession and the persistent access to justice gap in our society.” Carey R. Dunne, the former president of the New York City Bar Association who convened the Task Force, said, “Our Task Force noted the irony that, at a time of widespread handwringing about the supposed ‘oversupply’ of lawyers in our profession, tens of millions of Americans in all regions of the country have important unmet legal needs. I am delighted that the New York City Bar Association now is moving forward with our recommendation.”

Michelle J. Anderson, dean and professor of law at CUNY School of Law and chair of the Court Square Law Project’s Executive Committee, said, “Unlike existing programs, the Court Square Law Project will focus on the development of a mission-driven business model to deliver high-quality legal services to people of moderate means. We will structure the program and track outcomes with a research partner to develop a successful model that can be replicated in other parts of the country.”

Anderson continued, “The Court Square Law Project represents the first coalition among the legal academy, the largest law firms in the country, and the organized bar to develop a scalable, research-driven model to address both the chronic civil justice gap and the underemployment of recent law school graduates.”

Task Force members Bradley Butwin, chair of O’Melveny & Myers, Eric Friedman, chair of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, and Brad Karp, chair of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, took the lead to organize the New York City law firm community to contribute start-up funding for the Court Square Law Project. Butwin, Friedman, and Karp said in a statement, “Many New Yorkers are caught in a double bind. They do not qualify for government-supported legal services. While they can afford to pay something for legal services, there are many demands on their very limited discretionary income. Something needed to be done, and we are honored that so many of New York City’s established law firms answered the call to participate in implementing this innovative solution.”

The Founding Sponsor law firms are: Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP; Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP; Debevoise & Plimpton LLP; Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP; Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP; Kirkland & Ellis LLP; Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP; Latham & Watkins LLP; Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP; O’Melveny & Myers LLP; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP; Proskauer Rose LLP; Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP; Shearman & Sterling LLP; Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP; Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz; Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, and Winston & Strawn LLP.

Nationwide, fewer than four in ten moderate-income individuals faced with a serious legal issue relating to personal finance, housing, employment, or similar matters seek professional assistance, and almost one quarter do nothing. It is difficult to find legal counsel at an affordable price and there are competing priorities for limited resources. In New York City, 99 percent of tenants are unrepresented in eviction cases; 99 percent of consumers are unrepresented in hundreds of thousands of consumer credit cases filed each year; and 97 percent of parents are unrepresented in child support matters.

The City Bar will provide the Court Square Law Project with guidance, seasoned attorneys to serve as mentors to the fellows and instructors, and assistance with practice development through various programs. Court Square Law Project Fellows will benefit from many CUNY Law advantages, including contemporary office space, library resources, and IT and other support.

The Court Square Law Project will enroll up to ten new attorney fellows in each of the first four years of the five-year pilot program. Employment will take the form of a two-year fellowship residency in which participants will receive a stipend, legal experience, curriculum-based training, mentoring, legal supervision, and other tools necessary to help them transition to a self-sustaining law practice.

Visit the website at

Read the Task Force’s report here:


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The New York City Bar Association presented testimony today before the New York Ethics Review Commission and offered a series of recommendations that could be taken immediately to strengthen the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE).

Building on the work of its 2014 report “Hope for JCOPE,” which was issued jointly with Common Cause/New York, the City Bar expressed concern over “JCOPE’s lack of both actual and perceived independence” and its failure “to instill in officeholders, much less the public, any serious confidence or concern that JCOPE can or will deter, uncover or punish unethical or criminal conduct.” The testimony and supporting exhibits identified steps JCOPE can take right now, without legislative action, as well as necessary legislative amendments, to ensure that it is operating independently, vigorously and fairly to provide meaningful ethics enforcement for New York State.

“It is unfortunate in our view that JCOPE has largely chosen to seek unnecessary new authority rather than to use its existing authority under the State Code of Ethics in a robust and purposive manner,” said the City Bar in its prepared statement. The testimony reiterated the City Bar’s belief that “vigorous ethics enforcement is in both the public interest and the interest of the many, many public servants who obey the law.”

The City Bar was represented at the hearing by members of its Government Ethics Committee, former President Evan A. Davis and Daniel E. Karson. The Committee has spent the last several years studying the effectiveness of JCOPE and was vocal in supporting the appointment of the Review Commission to ensure JCOPE realizes its original promise.

Read the City Bar’s prepared statement, its “Hope for JCOPE” report (Exhibit 1), and its recommendations (Exhibits 3 and 4) here:


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Updated on October 16th to include new Task Force member John V. Connorton, Jr.

New York City Bar Association President Debra L. Raskin has convened a Task Force on the New York State Constitutional Convention and has asked its members to undertake an analysis similar to the one done by the City Bar 20 years ago.

In November 2017, when New Yorkers head to the polls, they will see this question on the ballot: “Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same?” For many New Yorkers, this will be their first time seeing a constitutional convention question on the ballot; others may remember being asked that question in 1997 because in New York, every 20 years, the voters get to decide if a convention should be held. The delegates at that convention can debate whether New York’s Constitution—the document that determines the structure of New York State government and the rights of its citizens—should be changed.

Twenty years ago, in 1995, the New York City Bar Association established a Task Force on the New York State Constitutional Convention to examine whether a convention should be held—a question that would appear on the ballot two years later in November 1997. As part of its work, the Task Force looked at the laws and procedures that governed the calling of a constitutional convention and made recommendations for change; undertook a review and analysis of the substantive provisions of the Constitution and identified areas for potential amendment; and debated whether, on balance, it would be a good idea to hold a convention.

“What makes this so interesting is that while the Constitution hasn’t changed much in the past 20 years, so much else has,” said Raskin. “We’ve had the Internet, a wave of ethical scandals, an unprecedented flow of money into politics, 9/11 and the war on terror, an additional one million people calling New York City home, and climate change. It is a great opportunity to weigh in and to help educate the public and I am so grateful to the members of the Task Force for taking on such a complex issue.”

The members of the Task Force are:

Margaret Dale, Co-Chair; Partner, Proskauer Rose LLP

Hon. Michael Sonberg, Co-Chair; New York State Supreme Court, New York County; Former Chair, New York City Bar Association (NYCBA) State Courts Committee; Former Co-Chair, NYCBA Council on Judicial Administration*

Lindsey Olson, Secretary; Associate, Proskauer Rose LLP

Robert Anello, Partner, Morvillo Abramowitz; President Emeritus, Federal Bar Council

Greg Ballard, Partner, Sidley Austin; Former Chair, NYCBA Government Ethics Committee

Richard Briffault, Professor of Legislation, Columbia Law School*

John V. Connorton, Jr., Hawkins Delafield & Wood LLP; former Assistant Counsel to Gov. Hugh Carey

Jeremy Creelan, Partner, Jenner & Block; Former Special Counsel to Governor Andrew Cuomo

Mylan Denerstein, Partner, Gibson Dunn; Former Counsel to Governor Andrew Cuomo

Daniel L. Feldman, Professor of Public Administration, John Jay College of Criminal Justice; Former NYS legislator; Former Assistant Deputy Attorney General; Former Special Counsel to NYS Comptroller; Author of six books on American law and government

Jeff Friedlander, Former First Assistant Corporation Counsel, New York City Law Department

Michael Gerrard, Professor of Environmental Law, Columbia Law School; Former Chair, NYCBA Executive Committee

Loren Gesinsky, Partner, Sayfarth Shaw; Former Chair, NYCBA State Affairs Committee

DeNora Getachew, Campaign Manager & Legislative Counsel, Brennan Center for Justice, NYU School of Law

Nicole Gordon, Former Founding Executive Director, NYC Campaign Finance Board; Adjunct Professor, NYU/Wagner School of Public Service; Board Member, the Marshall Project

John Halloran, Attorney, Civil Litigation and Dispute Resolution, John J. Halloran, Jr., P.C.; Former trial attorney with U.S. Justice Department; Former Law Clerk to Judge Matthew J. Jasen, NY Court of Appeals

Dennis Hawkins, Executive Director, Fund for Modern Courts; Former Regional Anti-Corruption Advisor, ABA Central and East European Law Initiative

Alfreida Kenny, Owner, Law Office of Alfreida B. Kenny

Robin Kramer, Partner, Duval & Stachenfeld; Adjunct Instructor, NYU/Schack Institute of Real Estate

Terri Matthews, Director, Town+Gown, New York City Department of Design & Construction; Former Chair, NYCBA Construction Law Committee

Doug Muzzio, Professor of Legislation, Baruch College School of Public Affairs

Maria Park, Assistant District Attorney, Kings County District Attorney’s Office

David Rosenberg, Partner, Marcus Rosenberg & Diamond, LLP; Former Chair, NYCBA State Courts Committee

Alan Rothstein, Former General Counsel, New York City Bar Association

Ross Sandler, Professor of Law, New York Law School; Former Commissioner, NYC Department of Transportation*

Frederick Schaffer, General Counsel and Senior Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs, City University of New York

Annie Ugurlayan, Senior Staff Attorney, NAD; Former Chair NYCBA Consumer Affairs Committee

Hon. James Yates, Former Chief Counsel to NY State Assembly; Former Justice, New York State Supreme Court, New York County*

The Task Force members are serving in their individual, personal capacities. They are not representing any organization or employer; affiliations are for identification purposes only

* Member, NYCBA Task Force on New York State Constitutional Convention (1995-97)


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When a hurricane, warehouse fire, terrorist attack, or other disaster destroys client files, attorneys face the difficult question of how to communicate the loss to clients. Until recently, most ethics guidance on this topic focused on what lawyers can do ahead of time to reduce the risk of loss. Now, a new ethics opinion (Formal Opinion 2015-6) by the New York City Bar Association’s Committee on Professional Ethics offers guidance on what lawyers should do after client files are inadvertently destroyed.

The Duty to Preserve Client Files.

Lawyers have a fiduciary duty to preserve and safeguard property they hold for clients and former clients. Under New York case law, clients have a property interest in—or, at minimum, free access to—most documents or other materials relating to their matters. The duty to preserve client files may continue for at least some period of time after the representation ends, depending on the circumstances. Accordingly, a lawyer may have a duty to notify clients or former clients when their files are destroyed in a disaster.

The Duty to Notify.

Whether an attorney must notify a client about destroyed files depends on various factors, including what types of documents were destroyed, whether the matter is open or closed, and what types of communications the lawyer previously had with the client concerning disposition of the files.

The opinion sets forth a three-tier framework for categorizing client files. Category 1 consists of documents with “intrinsic value or those that directly affect property rights,” such as “wills, deeds and negotiable instruments.” Category 2 consists of documents that the lawyer “knows or should know may still be necessary or useful to the client.” Category 3 consists of documents with relatively little importance that would “furnish no useful purpose in serving the client’s present needs for legal advice.”

The new opinion concludes that a lawyer should notify a client or former client if Category 1 documents are destroyed in a disaster. Conversely, a lawyer need not notify the client or former client if Category 3 documents are destroyed. Category 2 documents must be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. If the documents relate to an open matter, the opinion concludes that the lawyer must notify the client of their destruction. If the matter is closed, a more nuanced approach is required to determine whether the “client foreseeably may need” the documents. Other factors that may be relevant to a lawyer’s decision to notify include:

  • The amount of time that has passed since the matter was closed;
  • Whether the firm previously gave the client reasonable notice that the files were available to be collected or delivered and whether the client responded to such notice;
  • Whether the firm delivered copies of the files to the client at the conclusion of the matter or the client received copies of the files while the matter was ongoing;
  • Whether the firm has previously made unsuccessful attempts to contact the client;
  • Whether the contents of the file can be reconstructed from other sources.

As the opinion points out, however, “the most prudent option is to notify the client when any Category 2 documents are inadvertently destroyed.”

Though the opinion addresses a lawyer’s duties after files are already destroyed, it serves as a helpful reminder that lawyers should take steps to ensure they are adequately prepared in the event of a disaster or other disruption to everyday practice.

The opinion can be read here:



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Despite growing support for diversity and inclusion goals and some noteworthy progress over the past year, New York City law firms continue to experience high rates of attrition among minority and women attorneys, concludes the New York City Bar Association’s 2014 Diversity Benchmarking Report. In the 2014 data, 23.6% of minority attorneys and 21.3% of women left signatory firms, compared to 14.7% of white men.

In the Report released today, the City Bar notes gains and losses for signatory firms. While signatory firms continue to commit financial resources, staff resources, and greater accountability for firm partners towards diversity and inclusion efforts, elevated turnover rates of women and minority attorneys continue to erode progress. The 2014 survey found that minority attorney representation declined at all levels; and, though percentage of women partners peaked in 2014, women are simultaneously declining among the associate ranks.

At the leadership level, however, signatory firms saw signs of success, with women partner representation reaching the highest level since the City Bar began tracking diversity data. The data also reflected an increase in representation of women and minorities serving on management committees as well as increases in both women and minority practice group heads.

“While many firms have displayed an increased investment in diversity efforts, attrition remains a problem,” said New York City Bar Association President Debra L. Raskin. “The City Bar is working with our signatory firms to innovate strategies that increase accountability and encourage greater representation of lawyers of color, LGBT attorneys, attorneys with disabilities and women attorneys throughout the profession.”

The report’s findings, compiled from surveys of New York City law firms that signed the City Bar’s Statement of Diversity Principles, included:

  • Signatory firms continue to provide core elements to support their diversity efforts: more than 90% of firms reported the presence of a diversity council, a diversity budget, and the existence of affinity groups; and more than 50% reported that management committee members serve on the diversity committee, with 30% serving as Chair. 96% of firms reported that diversity budgets remained steady or increased in the last year, and nearly 80% of firms anticipate an increase in diversity budgets for 2015.
  • The 2014 data reflected notable gains for women in leadership roles, with the number of women partners peaking at 19.4%, and the percentage of women serving on the firms’ management committees rising from 13.5% in 2007 to 18.3% in 2014. The number of firms lacking any female representation on management committees declined from 25% in 2013 to 15% in 2014, and the number of firms reporting more than three women practice group leaders increased from 51% in 2013 to 60% in 2014.
  • The 2014 benchmarking data reflected a drop in female new partner promotions from 33.2% in 2013 to 29.2% in 2014.
  • Representation of minority attorneys fell across the board: minority associates declined from 26.9% in 2013 to 26.2%; special counsel attorneys from 12.0% in 2013 to 10.9%; and partners from 8.4% in 2013 to 8.2%.
  • Minority and women partners continue to be disproportionately represented in income partnerships, rather than equity partnerships. The turnover rate for income partners more than doubled that of equity partners, 8.3% compared to 4.0% in the 2014 results.
  • Minority attorney management committee members increased from 5.2% in 2013 to 6.4% in 2014, and practice group heads from 5.8% to 6.1%.

To date, 118 New York City firms have signed the City Bar’s Statement of Diversity Principles, committing to working toward several goals focused on enhancing the diversity of the legal profession from the pipeline to firm leadership. The data collected from signatory firms enables the legal community to track its progress in upholding the benchmarks set forth in the Statement of Principles, and also helps the City Bar identify key issues to address in their programs and reports.

The 2014 Benchmarking Report is available at:


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New York City Bar Association President Debra L. Raskin testified today at New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s Hearing on Civil Legal Services. The hearing took place at the Appellate Division, First Department, at 27 Madison Avenue in Manhattan. Following is the testimony as submitted:

Thank you.  I appreciate the opportunity to testify today on behalf of the New York City Bar Association at this annual hearing to address access to justice for New Yorkers who cannot afford an attorney for their crucial civil legal services needs.  First let me start by thanking Chief Judge Lippman, Helaine Barnett and the Task Force – now Permanent Commission – for its unwavering commitment over many years to the cause of providing funding for civil legal services.  It has been a true game-changer, and has improved thousands of lives and provided support for our courts.  Please know that you have the gratitude of the Bar, as well as our commitment to this issue going forward.

The New York City Bar has long been committed to providing access to justice, though our policy and advocacy initiatives in support of civil legal services, court funding, and a right to counsel in Housing Court and detained removal cases, and through direct legal assistance provided by our public service affiliate, the City Bar Fund.  Within the City Bar Fund, our City Bar Justice Center leverages the efforts and resources of the City’s legal community to increase access to justice for low-income individuals in New York City through in-house and pro bono representation.

Through Chief Judge Lippman’s and former Chief Administrative Judge Prudenti’s outstanding leadership, the Judiciary Budget now includes $85 million for civil legal services.  We urge that you stay the course toward the original goal of a $100 million increase in annual civil legal services funding.  This is a vital element of any effort to provide additional legal assistance to those who cannot afford it.  There are still far too many unrepresented people facing threats to their basic needs every day in our courthouses.

Of course, adding $15 million in funding is a necessary but not sufficient condition.  We deeply understand the importance of pro bono representation, as well as the need to find innovative ways to leverage the volunteer efforts of New York’s legal community.  The City Bar has supported pro bono reporting, the 50-hour pro bono requirement for new lawyers, and the innovative Pro Bono Scholars Program.

Through the Justice Center programs, we’ve engaged volunteer lawyers to assist homeless individuals, cancer survivors, immigrant women and children who have been trafficked or abused, families facing foreclosure and veterans, among others.  Our Legal Hotline is the largest free general civil legal services hotline in New York City.  And now, thanks to additional funding, Hotline attorneys are able to provide brief or limited legal services to callers, such as creating court papers for pro so litigants and assisting with filling out forms.  These services will be the focus of my testimony today because they provide a good framework to talk about the provision of unbundled legal services in civil cases to those who otherwise would be without representation.

But first, some statistics.  The City Bar Justice Center helps about 25,000 New Yorkers annually with civil legal problems.  Last year, we closed approximately 13,000 cases and engaged approximately 1,400 pro bono attorneys to work on cases and conduct community trainings.  Included in those numbers are the thousands of New Yorkers who rely on the Legal Hotline, which we’ve expanded to include limited scope or unbundled legal services to callers.  Unbundled or limited scope services refers to the attorney agreeing to provide only one part of the legal services that a client may need.  This has become less controversial over the last decade and is no longer questionable ethically provided that the client is informed that they are receiving limited scope assistance in a clearly worded retainer letter.

At the Justice Center, we use limited scope services for many of our existing projects, such as the Elderlaw and Consumer Bankruptcy Project, as well as our Legal Hotline.  We are also operating two very interesting new projects using limited scope representation – Legal Assistance to the Self Represented (LASR) which is an extension of the brief services we provide on the Legal Hotline and the Federal Pro Se Legal Assistance Project (FedPro).  For purposes of this testimony, I will focus on state court matters only.

Since November 2014, the Justice Center has handled approximately 2,300 limited scope service cases.  Representation in these cases varies depending on the needs of the individual and can include providing legal answers over the phone, sending callers know-your-rights information, reviewing a caller’s faxed documents and providing advice, and setting up an in-person appointment with the caller so that a more extensive legal issue can be resolved.  Limited scope representation often results in the avoidance or settlement of litigation or it empowers a pro se litigant to effectively move forward with a pending case.  Examples of such representation include:

  • Assisting a disabled client with drafting and sending cease and desist letters to creditors in order to stop harassment, then guiding him through the steps listed on the court’s website to vacate a default judgment in civil court;
  • Helping a single working mother file an uncontested divorce while securing child support and healthcare for her two children;
  • Demanding the return of more than a year’s worth of rent overpayment to a senior citizen who did not know that his adjusted rent amount was approximately half of what he was paying; and
  • Coming to the aid of a widow by drafting an Article 78 proceeding to correct her husband’s death certificate so that she might receive the death benefits to which she is entitled.

Quick, brief representation in these sorts of cases can result in credits and refunds issued to clients as well as end the threat of litigation.

Barriers to Expansion of Unbundled Services/Limited Scope

Although the vast majority of the Justice Center’s limited scope cases do not involve court representation, we are aware that not all judges have embraced the notion of attorneys undertaking only one part of a case.  Further, we are aware of pro bono attorneys being concerned that they may be asked to stay on for the whole case even if their retainer spells out the limited nature of the representation.  We believe that the court should continue to educate judges that this is an essential part of bridging the justice gap and that attorneys should ethically be able to end their services after they complete a portion of the case. The ability to do this varies by the practice setting and court/administrative agency and judges need to be encouraged to permit this.  Attorneys will not volunteer for limited scope representation in court or administrative settings if they think they cannot end their representation on the case as per the limited scope retainer letter.

There is also a concern that pro bono attorneys who are trained to handle only one part of a case may fail to identify interconnected issues.  This increases the burden to explain carefully to the client that the representation will be limited in scope and will only focus on one aspect of a problem, which may entail additional legal issues.  In some cases, it would be inappropriate and in fact could worsen a problem to deal only with one issue. Those cases would not work for limited scope representation and should not be handled as limited scope matters.

Going Forward with Unbundled Services/Limited Scope

The City Bar Justice Center’s experience to date with unbundled legal services is very promising.  Our surveys of client satisfaction show that clients who can follow the directions are extremely happy with limited scope service and feel empowered.  The cases we’ve handled so far show potential to help even more people who cannot obtain full representation from a legal services or pro bono provider.  We believe that pro bono attorneys would be pleased to take on limited scope representation cases so long as the case is appropriate and an appropriate retainer letter is signed.   It is our hope to engage many more pro bono attorneys in this sort of representation.  It is our further hope to continue innovative collaborations around online intake for these sorts of cases, especially consumer debt cases.

I want to end my testimony by talking about the Pro Bono Scholars Program.  This past Spring, the City Bar Justice Center hosted two Pro Bono Scholars and it was a fantastic experience for all involved.   Our Scholars came from New York Law School and Cornell Law School and provided invaluable assistance answering hotline calls and providing brief services to callers.  They received training and provided concentrated support, in particular, to elderly and veteran callers needing assistance.  We believe this program holds great promise and look forward to continuing our participation in it.

* * *

Thank you for the opportunity to testify and a very special thank you to the Chief Judge for all he has done to improve access to justice in this state.  Your leadership has not only moved the needle, it has permanently altered the playing field.


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