Press Releases

Court Square Law Project Receives ABA Award for Legal Access

City Bar logo    CUNY Law logo

The New York City Bar Association (City Bar) and The City University of New York School of Law (CUNY Law) are pleased to announce that the Court Square Law Project has been named the 2019 recipient of the American Bar Association Louis M. Brown Award for Legal Access. The Brown Award recognizes programs and projects that enable affordable access to legal services in ways that are exemplary and replicable for those of moderate incomes. Cynthia Domingo-Forasté, the executive director of Court Square, accepted the Brown Award on behalf of the project at a ceremony on January 25, 2019 during the ABA Midyear Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The Court Square Law Project is a pilot program founded in 2016 by the City Bar and CUNY Law with support from 19 leading law firms across New York City. It was developed as an innovative response to several challenges identified by the City Bar’s Task Force on New Lawyers in a Changing Profession, convened in 2012 by then-City Bar President Carey R. Dunne and chaired by Mark Morril. Court Square’s mission is to create a self-sustaining law firm that provides client-centered, affordable, sliding-scale legal services. The project prepares new lawyers with the skills, tools, and resources needed to expand access to sustainable, mission-driven legal practices aimed at closing the justice gap for moderate-income clients.

Nationwide, fewer than four in 10 moderate-income individuals faced with a serious legal issue seek professional assistance. In New York City, 97% of parents are unrepresented in child support matters where the average cost in attorney’s fees is $21,700 for divorce cases involving child custody. The average starting salary for a public school teacher in New York is $56,000. For a moderate-income professional without access to affordable legal services like those provided by Court Square, a custody proceeding could strip away nearly 39% of that individual’s gross wages. 

“People who make moderate incomes face a justice gap. They don’t qualify for legal aid, yet can’t afford private practice attorneys,” said Domingo-Forasté. “That leaves many people representing themselves and losing in court because they don’t have the knowledge or skills to win their cases. We created this firm to ensure that everyone can have access to the fundamental legal services they need.”

“The Court Square Law Project fills an important niche by making legal services accessible for those in the middle class, while also providing training for lawyers to develop their careers and launch their own practices to serve clients of modest means,” said New York City Bar Association President Roger Juan Maldonado. “It is our expectation that this model can be replicated and scaled up elsewhere, and will represent a significant advancement for access to justice.”

Court Square’s fellowships, which last one to two years, are aimed at recent law school graduates interested in serving the underserved. Fellows are selected from a diverse pool of graduates from schools across the country, including CUNY Law, and work on civil law cases ranging from divorce proceedings, small business formation and litigation, access to housing, and more before moving on to another firm or to start their own practice serving people of moderate means.

“We hope that this recognition from the ABA signals to the legal community that there is a need for projects like ours and that the crisis in the justice system isn’t insoluble” said Mary Lu Bilek, Dean of CUNY Law. “We are proud to be part of a collaboration in which the bar and the academy work together, with the investment of the leading firms in New York City, to prove that hypothesis.”

In over just two years of operation, the Court Square Law Project has helped more than 574 clients, employed 23 fellows, and fielded inquiries from law schools and firms nationwide with interest in learning from its model.

The Sponsor Law Firm effort for Court Square Law Project was led by Bradley J. Butwin, chair of O’Melveny & Myers; Eric Friedman, chair of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP; and Brad Karp, chair of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.

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 LLP, 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.


About New York City Bar Association
The mission of the New York City Bar Association, which was founded in 1870 and has 24,000 members, is to equip and mobilize the legal profession to practice with excellence, promote reform of the law, and uphold the rule of law and access to justice in support of a fair society and the public interest in our community, our nation, and throughout the world.

About the City University of New York School of Law
The nation’s premier public interest law school is driven by a mission to enhance the diversity of the legal profession and graduate outstanding public interest advocates. Founded in 1983, the public school offers full and part-time programs.

Media Contacts
New York City Bar Association
Eric Friedman
T: 212-382-6754

Elise Hanks Billing
T: 860.271.6460