Speaking about the importance of pro bono work in these uncertain times, New York State Attorney General Letitia James delivered the keynote address to members of the New York State Bar Association during the President’s Committee on Access to Justice (PCAJ) event Thursday at the association’s Annual Meeting.
James and Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, NYSBA President Scott Karson and President-Elect T. Andrew Brown gathered to honor lawyers who have joined the ranks of the Empire State Counsel® and to recognize individuals and firms across New York for their extraordinary service for the public good.
“Thank you all for standing up for the rule of law,” James said. “For using it as a sword and shield. A sword to strike down wrongdoers and corruption and as a shield to protect the innocent and the vulnerable.”
Attorneys Anne Sargent Arcano and Richard Mancino were honored for their pro bono work assisting victims and survivors of abuse as well as asylum seekers, unrepresented children and the LGBTQ community.
“We are all here tonight as a testament to the fact that access to justice matters because money and influence are still barriers to justice,” James said. “With each pro bono case you take on, with every hour you dedicate to pro bono work, you are steadily breaking down that barrier.”
James spoke at length about the sense of purpose she derives from treating her neighbors no different from herself and achieving the ideal of access to justice in communities like the one she grew up in Brooklyn.
“I’ve spent every year in my public life serving the public,” James said. ” Even after being elected New York City public advocate, my pro bono work didn’t end, my thirst for justice didn’t end.”
Recalling one of the many examples in her career when she was able to intervene to help someone seeking justice, James told the story of a young man from Honduras who was fighting to say in this country. She represented the 16-year old in Family Court and proceeded to get him special juvenile status allowing him to stay in New York.
“The very term pro bono means for the public good,” James said. “That’s exactly what you exemplify by taking on these cases and issues for the good of the people. We must continue to stand up for the public good, for the good of the public.”