NYSBA’s Pro Bono Network Doing the Public Good

By Brandon Vogel

Public Resources_Pro Bono Services

While waiting to be admitted to the bar, recent law graduates are helping with research and serving as translators to help more experienced attorneys serving unemployed New Yorkers affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 250 unemployed New Yorkers have been matched with an attorney to help them appeal denied unemployment insurance claims since NYSBA launched its pro bono network on April 30.

Approximately 15 NYSBA staffers from the departments of public interest, government relations, section and meeting services, lawyer assistance, lawyer referral and publications are working around the clock to help fulfill this vital need for assistance, with support from NYSBA’s communications, marketing and digital business operations teams.

NYSBA has matched 175 clients with individual attorneys while 80 have been referred to civil legal services organizations. Some attorneys have taken on more than seven clients.

NYSBA developed a new innovative website, www.nysba.org/legalhelp to provide resources for filing an unemployment claim and will match attorneys – free of charge – with those whose claims are unsuccessful.

The site provides guidance both on filing unemployment claims and how to find help if those claims are denied. Participants detail their Unemployment Insurance or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims using an intake form, developed by Clio, a legal tech provider. Once complete, NYSBA uses Clio’s client intake software to match the participants with pro bono attorneys onboarded and made available through Paladin’s online portal of volunteers. To ensure efficiency and ease, pro bono attorneys will be given free access to Clio’s secure case management software to manage the appeal process.

Growing community

Tom Richards, NYSBA deputy general counsel and director of public interest, sent out the introduction last Wednesday to NYSBA’s COVID-19 Pro Bono Network Volunteers Community welcoming the 700 volunteers to the forum where they can share ideas and ask questions.

In the first six days, there have been nearly 300 messages from volunteers eager to help New Yorkers appeal denied unemployment insurance claims. In each message, there is a sense of service and wanting to use their law degree to help the greater good. The community library is now filled with members sharing sample letters and forms that other lawyers can use. “The camaraderie and collaboration is really inspirational,” said Richards.

Some experienced lawyers have teamed up with law students to better handle the casework and learn from an experienced attorney.

Richards noted that attorneys are fulfilling the “counselor at law” role providing reassurance and support to their new clients.

More than 30 million Americans – including over 1.4 million New Yorkers – have filed unemployment claims in recent weeks. More than 1,500 attorneys have taken NYSBA’s recent training program, “Applying for Unemployment: Client Counseling Under the CARES Act.”  Additional training is being scheduled.

While the pro bono network’s first task is handling unemployment benefits, it is quickly gearing up to also address a range of other issues – from evictions to domestic violence to job and housing discrimination.

Lawyers who are interested in joining this cause should go to https://nysba.org/covidvolunteer/to sign up. If you have specific questions about volunteering, please contact NYSBA via e-mail: [email protected].

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