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City Bar Volunteering--Professionally and Personally Rewarding
When Denise Lekowski first joined the City Bar, she was attracted by many of the resources the City Bar is well known for: the library, the committees, the almost daily panel discussions and, of course, the opportunity to meet and network with other attorneys. Although Denise began her career in broadcasting, she was inspired to pursue a legal education to advocate for disenfranchised people and is particularly passionate about immigration policy. "I have a deep respect for people who have to leave their country and start over again, and also a sense of responsibility for how our foreign policies affect people abroad," says Denise.
While at CUNY Law School, she worked on a VAWA case through the school's Immigrant & Refugee Rights Clinic, ultimately helping secure the client's asylum. Since graduating from CUNY in 2006, Denise has logged hundreds of hours with various nonprofits, advocacy and legal services organizations including the City Bar's Monday Night Law program, a weekly pro bono clinic operated through the Committee on Legal Services for Persons of Moderate Means. Volunteer attorneys like Denise go through an extensive training that provides how-to materials on consulting with clients on various areas of practice including family law, consumer rights, employment rights, bankruptcy and landlord-tenant issues. After completing the training, Denise and other participating attorneys volunteer at least one Monday night a month, giving dozens of half-hour consultations to moderate and low-income clients. The program has been important to Denise. "I really like to find a way to advocate for people being cheated. A lot of it is listening and giving information, helping people who haven't been taken seriously or treated respectfully. They come in angry, scared, frustrated at their situation and when they leave, they're excited. I've met people from all walks of life through Monday Night Law. It's broadened my understanding of people, exposed me to the different practices of law and given me experience doing intake sessions with clients."
Denise credits the City Bar, and particularly her time with Monday Night Law, with expanding her professional acumen and providing her with experience in different areas of practice like housing law, labor rights and food policy. "I enjoyed working with the other attorneys at Monday Night Law; we each have different things to say and learn from one another's different backgrounds." Understandably, Denise is a big proponent of law students and attorneys becoming involved in pro bono and social justice projects. "Volunteering is so important; it helps with networking and gaining experience but is also so personally rewarding."
In addition to her years with Monday Night Law, Denise has attended several CLEs on ethics and programs like the City Bar Justice Center's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) application training. In 2011, she joined the Health Law Committee, an experience she strongly recommends to other members. "It's exciting to see the legislation process when the committee looks over a bill. I was surprised by how many committees there were, how nice and approachable people are. Committee work makes it possible to do something you're interested in and to network with other attorneys." In the coming years, Denise plans to engage in other social justice endeavors at the City Bar including projects like the City Bar Justice Center's Veterans Clinic, Foreclosure Project, and the Immigrant Women & Children Project.
Denise's involvement with the City Bar has expanded beyond her initial expectations. "The City Bar is a great organization with great people and diverse opportunities. I would recommend joining early in your career. I know I feel proud to have the City Bar on my resume."