Hundreds Gather in Albany for NYSBA 2022 Partnership Conference
More than 400 lawyers from across the state descended on Albany’s Capital Center for NYSBA’s two-day biannual Partnership Conference, which focused on immigration, refugee and elder law, food insecurity, housing and the impact of long-term COVID.
It was the first time the conference was held since 2018 and it gave speakers a chance to focus on how the pandemic has changed the practice of law.
Success of Remote Legal Service
Samantha Ingram of Family Legal Care shared the success of its remote legal services program, which provides pro bono help to parents and other caregivers in Family Court. Ingram says nearly 80% of litigants arrive in Family Court without an attorney and the remote program helps them prepare for their appearance.
Most Family Legal Care clients are low- to moderate-income and earn too much to be be entitled to free legal services. The program trains attorney volunteers from all practice areas to provide one-hour pro bono sessions with clients. Family Legal Care uses a remote platform provided by ProBono.Net called Remote Legal Connect which is convenient for both the client and the volunteer attorney.
Ingram says the program started before the pandemic but mushroomed in 2020 after in-person legal clinics shut down. Lawyers with time on their hands flocked to volunteer. Those volunteers helped more than 400 New York families in the last year.
Recognizing Invisible Disabilities
A special session on Wednesday afternoon detailed how lawyers can help clients with challenges such as learning disabilities or complications from chronic illnesses.
Sherry Levin Wallach, president of the New York State Bar Association, said that identifying these invisible needs is central to serving the client. “Some disabilities are obvious, but today we focus on those barriers to client representation that counsel cannot readily see or understand. As legal service providers, we work every day to represent our clients who are the most marginalized, the most in need,” she said.
Sidney Cherubin of Access Justice Brooklyn said that the vast majority of chronic medical conditions are not always obvious. Examples include post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, bipolar disorder, anxiety and autism. Cherubin outlined the difficulties that arise in working with these clients and how to manage them. A client with a cognitive impairment may need information repeated and may have difficulty paying attention. Some clients experience mood changes or impulsive behavior.
He encouraged lawyers to prepare for a meeting with a client with an invisible disability as they would with a client for whom English is not a first language. Be prepared to repeat the information over and over again and speak in simple terms without jargon. In all things, Cherubin cautions attorneys to treat all clients with respect and empathy.
Asking for Accommodations
Several speakers discussed the need to be careful about assumptions when dealing with a client with a disability. It’s important to ask if a client needs an accommodation and what type of accommodate is needed. When easing a language barrier, be sure to ask the client about what dialect they speak so the right interpreter can be used. Each courthouse in New York State is required to employ an ADA staff liaison who can help lawyers and clients prior to a hearing.
The panelists encouraged the lawyers in attendance to keep up the fight, acknowledging that public agencies are duty bound to meet you half way in identifying and assisting clients with disabilities.
Sponsors of the conference include the NYSBA Committee on Legal Aid, President’s Committee on Access to Justice, Young Lawyers Section, 50+ Section, General Practice Section and the Committee on Continuing Legal Education.