The New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) has a long and proud tradition of advocating for equal access to justice for all New Yorkers in civil matters through a combination of government-funded legal services programs and voluntary pro bono service by private practitioners. The Department also provides assistance and educational training programs for attorneys employed by legal services organizations and oversees a number of attorney recognition programs that promote, recognize, and honor pro bono service by individual attorneys and law firms. The Department works with many of the Association’s sections and committees to encourage their voluntary participation in pro bono projects.
- NYSBA does not generally provide direct legal services to the public.
- NYSBA is currently recruiting attorneys for pro bono work to help Veterans in the Restoration of Honor Project.
- If you need a pro bono attorney, please visit lawhelpny.org for a civil legal service organization that may be able to assist you.
- Looking to volunteer? Click here to find a pro bono opportunity that is tailored to your specific requirements.
- Click here for the Unified Court System’s website that provides info on the pro bono requirement for admission to the bar as well as the mandatory biennial reporting requirements.
- Visit Free Legal Answers website to register as an attorney volunteer. It is A Virtual Legal Advice Clinic where attorneys can answer questions from the public on civil legal issues on a limited scope basis.
- The Pro Bono Appeals Program provides pro bono representation for selected civil appeals to the Appellate Division, Third and Fourth Judicial Departments. Visit the Pro Bono Appeals program page for more information.
- New York Public Interest Research Group’s (“NYPIRG’s”) Small Claims Court Action Centers provide assistance on small claims court and consumer matters. Please visit https://www.nypirg.org/sccac/ or call (800) 566-5020 and leave a message if you need assistance.
- We invite you to submit articles showcasing excellence in pro bono service for upcoming editions of the Pro Bono Newsletter. Articles can be sent to [email protected]
Thank you to the following legal service organizations!
Workers’ Compensation Board’s Injured Workers Legal Assistance Pro Bono Project
The New York State Workers’ Compensation Board’s Injured Workers Legal Assistance Project (“IWLAP”) helps injured workers obtain medical treatment through the assistance of pro bono attorneys.
The New York State Bar Association (“NYSBA”), its Torts, Insurance, and Compensation Law Section, and its Workers’ Compensation Law Division have partnered with the Workers’ Compensation Board to connect volunteer attorneys with injured workers seeking representation in medical-only claims.
In these medical-only claims, the insurance carrier or self-insured employer who pays the medical benefits has accepted liability, but is disputing the medical treatment sought by the injured worker. These cases typically pose a challenge for injured workers seeking legal representation as no attorney fees are awarded when there are no lost wages.
Are you an Injured Worker Seeking Representation in Medical-Only Claims?
Please complete the following form if you are currently not represented by an attorney (or licensed representative) and you received a notice telling you that a request for authorization for a medical procedure or medical treatment was denied, and you would like to request legal assistance in navigating the next steps: https://nysbawcb.cliogrow.com/intake/3f1c2d3abbb72c984177e16f941ea146
The New York State Bar Association does not guarantee it will find an attorney who will accept your case and does not guarantee the outcome or results of that representation.
Are you an Attorney Interested in Volunteering?
Sign up here to help injured workers obtain medical treatment: https://nysba.joinpaladin.com/nysba/opportunities/help-injured-workers-obtain-medical-treatment/
This opportunity is for attorneys who are licensed to practice law in New York State. Malpractice insurance coverage is provided for volunteers.
Lawyers who are interested in volunteering will be required to participate in a free training webinar worth 2.0 MCLE credits. The training is presented by Alex C. Dell, Esq., founding attorney of The Law Firm of Alex Dell, PLLC. Volunteers must complete the training webinar to be eligible to receive cases from NYSBA. You can access the training webinar at:
The training webinar is free for both members and non-members but you must log in to the NYSBA website to access the webinar and earn MCLE credits. Please contact the NYSBA Member Resource Center at [email protected] or 800-582-2452 should you need assistance in accessing the training webinar.
NYS Workers’ Compensation Pro Bono Training Program
This program is presented by Alex C. Dell, Esq., Founding Attorney of The Law Firm of Alex Dell, PLLC.
President’s Pro Bono Service Awards
Each year the Association proudly bestows the President’s Pro Bono Service Awards. These awards recognize outstanding pro bono contributions made by individual attorneys, law students, law firms, corporate counsel and/or government offices. The awards ceremony is usually held on or about May 1st as part of the Association’s Law Day Celebration.
Although nominees do not have to be members of the New York State Bar Association, to be eligible for one of these prestigious awards an attorney must be admitted to practice in New York State and must have rendered her/his pro bono service or participated in a pro bono program within the state. Nominees are evaluated based on pro bono service donated during the previous year including, but not limited, to the number of clients served, number of hours contributed, impact of the service on clients, and/or the impact of the service on a pro bono program or community.
Pro Bono Service Award Winners
Kevin J. Curnin is Founding Director of Stroock’s Public Service Project, the cornerstone of the firm’s longtime commitment to serving the public interest. Created in March 2001, the Public Service Project provides a broad array of legal assistance, concentrating on underserved and under- resourced communities in New York City, and is a national leader in providing critical legal pro bono services in response to national disasters.
In addition to managing the program, Kevin leads cases and advises associates and partners with their pro bono litigation and transactional work. Kevin supervises a broad range of matters, from special education hearings to family and housing court disputes. He is counsel to non-profit entities and micro-entrepreneurs. During his tenure, Kevin and the Public Service Project have won dozens of awards from city, state, and national organizations, including the American Bar Association and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association.
Kevin served on the Board of Directors of the Association of Pro Bono Council for six years and was President of APBCo in 2017. Before his 2001 appointment as the Project’s first Attorney Director, Kevin spent more than five years in commercial litigation at Stroock. His areas of commercial experience include insurance, banking, securities, and arbitration. Since 2001, Mr. Curnin and the Public Service Project have received over 85 awards.
Jason Moff is Special Counsel in the litigation department at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP. As part of his pro bono docket, Jason has played a key role in virtually every major LGBTQ rights litigation his firm has undertaken, including a series of cases establishing recognition within New York State for the valid out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples; a series of amicus briefs on behalf of mainstream religious stakeholders in the Windsor, Perry, and Obergefell cases and their progeny, as well as several federal Court of Appeals cases leading up to Obergefell; two different cases in the New York Court of Appeals establishing rights for non-biological parents to seek custody or visitation following dissolution of same-sex relationships; and a lawsuit on behalf of LGBTQ asylum seekers who obtained preliminary injunctive relief against enforcement of the 2020 federal rule that would have severely curtailed avenues for asylum relief.
This list is not exhaustive even as to Jason’s LGBTQ rights work, and he has also undertaken substantial pro bono work in the areas of immigration, domestic violence, labor rights, and reproductive freedom. With the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood, Jason tried a lawsuit in federal court in Tennessee challenging a state law that unconstitutionally obstructed women’s right to abortion access. In the past year, he also has represented two private employees in federal New York courts seeking to redress their rights for fair pay under federal and state labor laws, and a lesbian woman living in Brooklyn seeking asylum from Kazakhstan. In addition, Jason has represented multiple young clients seeking to dismiss removal proceedings and obtain immigration documentation after fleeing oppressive circumstances in their home countries.
Kelly M. Curro has been admitted to practice in New York and Massachusetts since 1993. She is 1990 graduate magna cum laude of The College of Saint Rose with a B.A. in History/Political Science. She was the College’s first participant in its combined law degree program with Albany Law School. She received her J.D. cum laude from Albany Law in 1992. She is an attorney with the law firm of Ianniello Anderson P.C. in Albany, New York. Her primary practice is in the areas of matrimonial and family law.
Kelly volunteers with the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York in Albany, New York to conduct pro se divorce clinics in the Third Judicial District. She has been able to continue to facilitate these clinics during the pandemic with Legal Aid Society via Zoom. The Legal Aid clinics in the District provide valuable assistance to clients trying to navigate the complex instructions, forms, and process of obtaining a pro se divorce.
She lives in Latham, New York with her husband, Tony and son, Anthony.
David Pratt is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor of Law at Albany Law School. He received his law degree from Oxford. Since 1976, he has specialized in retirement plans and other employee benefit programs. He is the author of the Social Security and Medicare Answer Book and the co-author of Pension and Employee Benefits Law (with John Langbein, Susan Stabile and Andrew Stumpff), ERISA and Employee Benefit Law: The Essentials (with Sharon Reese) and Taxation of Distributions from Qualified Plans (with Dianne Bennett and others). He has also written numerous articles and is a frequent lecturer. He is the Vice Chair of the Life Insurance and Employee Benefits Committee of the Trusts and Estates Law Section of the New York State Bar Association and a fellow of the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel. He has participated in pro bono activities since he first started work at a law firm in London in 1973. Since joining the law school faculty in 1994, he has supported the law school’s extensive pro bono activities by advising students and clients and speaking at Senior Citizens’ Law Day and Veterans’ Law Day. Since 2016, he has been one of a group of attorneys representing former employees of St. Clare’s Hospital in Schenectady seeking to recover promised pension benefits that were not paid.
Russell grew up in the Syracuse area, graduating from Bishop Ludden High School after also attending Corcoran High School in Syracuse. Before moving back to Syracuse in 2009, he lived in South Florida for 12 years.
Russell has been practicing law since 2010. He graduated from the Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad Law Center (now known as the Shepard Broad College of Law) in 2006 with a concentration in International Legal Practice and a Certificate in Arbitration through a joint program offered by the McGill University Faculty of Law and the Penn State University Dickinson School of Law. He also holds a Master of Science degree in Management Information Systems from the Nova Southeastern University College of Computing and Engineering and a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Political Science from the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Since 2012, Russell has owned and operated the Dombrow Law Firm in Syracuse. The Dombrow Law Firm focuses its practice on consumer protection; specifically, matters involving automobile fraud, debt collection defense, and credit reporting. Before starting the Dombrow Law Firm, Russell started his legal career as a Staff Attorney at the Justice Alliance of Central New York, which consists of the Legal Aid Society of Mid – New York and Legal Services of Central New York, primarily representing tenants facing eviction and habitability issues.
Russell has been a member of the National Association of Consumer Advocates since 2018. Russell is admitted to practice in New York State, the United States District Courts for the Northern and Western Districts of New York, and the Bankruptcy Courts for both of those districts.
Russell’s pro bono work is with the Volunteer Lawyers Project of Onondaga County’s CLARO program. CLARO is the Consumer Legal Advice Resource Office. CLARO provides free legal advice and help with drafting court pleadings for low – income consumers primarily in Onondaga County, but also in the surrounding area. CLARO helps its clients with court cases or judgments related to credit card debt, medical debt, student loans, car loans, utilities collections, lines of credit, and charge accounts. Since Russell joined the program at its founding in Fall 2019, he has been able to help consumers defend against lawsuits by debt collectors, advise whether consumers might benefit from filing for bankruptcy protection, and vacate default judgments.
Attorney Gaji is a solo practitioner in Binghamton, New York, with over 25 years of experience. His diverse practice includes family law, immigration, securities arbitration, and ” attorney for the child” representation. Before coming to the United States, he trained and practiced in Nigeria.
Since 2009 Attorney Gaji has been an active member of Legal Aid ‘s pro bono panel. In response to the tragic mass shootings at American Civic Association (ACA) in Binghamton on April 3, 2009, Legal Aid organized clinics to address the emergency legal needs of those impacted, many of whom were immigrants attending ESL class e s at the time of the shootings. Attorney Gaji was the only immigration attorney in the Binghamton area and he readily volunteered to help. Since then, Attorney Gaji been dedicated to assisting immigrants through monthly “Talk to a Lawyer” clinics at ACA.
In addition, Attorney Gaji also volunteered to help organize and present at various immigration forums over the years co-sponsored by Legal Aid and ACA. When the Obama Administration announced, “Temporary Protected Status” (TPS) for Haitians following the devastating earthquakes in January 2010 (protecting recipients from deportation for 18 months), there was only a six-month window to apply. With Attorney Gaji’ s help Legal Aid quickly set up clinics to educate Haitians in the Binghamton area about the program.
Attorney Gaji also presented on family law topics as part of the clinics. Thereafter, Attorney Gaji also helped put together a community forum about the employment of immigrants in the United States.
Beyond immigration matters, Attorney Gaji also accepts end of life planning and divorce referrals from Legal Aid. Legal Aid has grants to assist those over the age of 60 with end-of-life planning, such as wills, health care proxies and powers of attorney. But younger persons who also may need these services do not qualify for help under the grants. Attorney Gaji is one of a s mall group of attorneys that has volunteered to provide this assistance.
After retiring from a career in public education, including an administrative role in special education, I graduated from University at Buffalo School of Law, and spent 18 years as an Attorney for Children in Erie County. When I was no longer able to continue an active practice, I returned to Ontario County in 2017, and enrolled in the Attorney Emeritus Program. Since that time, I have worked with two agencies, Legal Assistance of Western New York, and the Volunteer Legal Services Project in Rochester.
At LawNY, I assisted some clients whose children had special needs, advocating for them with local school districts. I also represented clients in divorce, child support, and custody matters. More recently, I have focused on the Family Preparedness Clinic with VLSP and assist vulnerable undocumented migrants in planning for the future of their children in the event the parent(s) are detained or deported.
Tony Szczygiel is a University of Buffalo Law School Professor Emeritus, where he taught from 1982 through 2015. Tony earned his Juris Doctor from UC Berkeley School of Law in 1975. From 1977 through 1981 he worked in a Legal Services Corporation-funded program providing representation to migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the Mid-Hudson Valley and the eastern end of Long Island.
At the Law School Tony’s classroom courses included Elder Law and Health Law. For 30 years, Tony supervised the Elder Law Clinic that he started in 1983. The Clinic worked closely with the Legal Services for the Elderly, Disabled or Disadvantaged law office in Buffalo NY (now named the Center for Elder Law and Justice). As part of this work, the Clinic handled scores of Medicare and Medicaid appeals for elderly or disabled clients. Tony continues to volunteer at CELJ as a consultant on Health Law issues and as a CLE presenter.
Over his 44-year career as a lawyer, Tony has made over 300 presentations for the New York State and local County Bar Associations, as well as other advocates and consumers. He participates in the NYSBA Attorney Emeritus program. The NYSBA Senior Lawyers Section presented Tony with their 2018 Jonathan Lipppman Pro Bono Award (service to underserved members of the community).
Since his retirement, Tony became a certified volunteer with the NYS Long Term Care Ombudsman Program, focused on systems advocacy for nursing home and adult care facility residents. The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care awarded Tony the 2019 Howard Hinds Memorial Award (recognizing advocacy for long-term care consumers at the local level).
Tony has served as a Board member for various local not-for-profit organizations, including Canopy of Neighbors, a “Village” dedicated to helping seniors age in community, the Community Health Center and Neighborhood Legal Services.
I grew up in rural Southeastern Virginia in a little town on the Chesapeake Bay and now reside with my husband and two college age sons in Goldens Bridge, New York. My legal career has been entirely in public interest law in North Carolina, Long Island and Westchester. I have been volunteering at Pace Women’s Justice Center, for close to 6 years, fielding calls on the Helpline once a week and representing indigent clients in their divorces. I graduated from University of Virginia in 1982 and Northeastern University Law School in 1987.
Scott Stone obtained his undergraduate degree from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications in 1989 and then went on to study law at Hofstra Law School.
In addition to New York (1993), Connecticut (1992) and the District of Columbia (1993), Scott is also admitted to practice in the United States Supreme Court, and the United States District Courts for the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York.
At the Law Offices of Scott Stone PLLC, located in East Rockaway New York, Scott maintains a general practice, a substantial portion of which involves residential and commercial real estate, traffic, tax certiorari, landlord tenant, business transactions and corporate representation.
Scott also serves as Special Counsel to the Incorporated Village of Farmingdale and Special Counsel to the Incorporated Village of Cedarhurst for Tax Certiorari, as well as a Referee for the New York State Supreme Court. From 2006–2020, he served as Special Counsel to the City of Glen Cove for Commercial Tax Certiorari matters.
Scott has belonged to numerous professional associations including the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, the Society of Professional Journalists, as well as the Advisory Board to the Jazz Composers Collective. He is also on the Board of Trustees of Congregation Shaaray Shalom in West Hempstead.
Scott is an active participant in the effort to protect low-income tenants in Nassau County. He began volunteering with Nassau Suffolk Law Services, Volunteer Lawyers Program by donating his time with their Landlord/Tenant Project-VLP Attorney of the Day in 2012 and has represented over 221 clients facing eviction. The program provides direct pro bono representation to low-income tenants facing eviction in nonpayment or holdover proceedings. Attorneys taking part in the program volunteer for the day prevent or forestall evictions. As a pro bono counsel, Scott is usually able to dismiss the eviction proceeding or negotiate a stipulation of settlement that allows the tenancy to continue or, at a minimum, give the tenant additional time to find alternative housing. This critical legal service protects the tenant from homelessness or shelter placement.
Scott has previously earned recognition for his level of generosity and constant dedication to pro bono work by receiving the Pro Bono Attorney of the Month Award in Nassau County and named as Top Pro Bono Honoree on numerous occasions, including 2021.
He is also active in his community as a coach and sponsor for the North Bellmore-North Merrick Little League Softball, East Rockaway High School Senior Seminar Internship Program and has previously assisted the East Rockaway Mock Trial Team, as well as given lectures on property tax issues for veterans and other civic groups.
Scott grew up in West Hempstead and now lives with his wife, Elyse, and their two daughters, Maya, and Dana, in Bellmore, New York.
I graduated from Columbia Law School in 1963, where I was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar.
I was a partner and the head of the real estate department at Gordon Hurwitz Butowsky Baker Weitzen Shalov and Wein for twenty-five years.
Later I became General Counsel to lntervest National Bank, which was subsequently acquired by Bank OZK.
My legal services work included the following:
- For fifteen years I served as a director of Mobilization for Youth.
- I was a volunteer attorney at The Legal aid Society and Mobilization for Justice (formerly Mobilization for Youth)
- My service at Mobilization for Justice included:
- Work in the field of foster care, adoption, and guardianship.
- Work with the mental health group, which work was primarily in the field of landlord and tenant law.
Work with the workplace justice project, which evolved into a unit that represents drivers and taxi and other for-hire drivers against the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission in hearings before the New York City Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH). Since the inception of the pandemic hearings before OATH have been conducted by conference call with evidence submitted by email.
The tribunal does not strictly follow the rules of evidence and hearsay testimony is permitted and may be relied upon.
SERGIO VILLAVERDE was born and raised in NYC. The son of immigrants Sergio is fluent in Spanish. He has lived most of his life, as currently, in the Bronx. Sergio has been in the service of others all his adult life.
Sergio is the founder of the Law Office of Sergio Villaverde, PLLC a community based matrimonial and family law practice.
Sergio has always maintained a direct link to his community, which he serves, in various volunteer roles. Donating thousands of hours to public service, Sergi has been a volunteer baseball coach, mentor, chairman of a local youth services corporation, volunteer attorney for victims of domestic violence and serves on the Boards of The Bronx County Bar Association and the Association of Naval Services Officers. He has been appointed to Community Board 7 and 8 in the Bronx. In the Community Board Sergio has served and chaired several committees including Economic Development and Veteran’s Affairs. Sergio also volunteers a Board Member of the Puerto Rican Bar Association, an Officer of the Bronx County Bar Association, Judge Advocate General of the Association of Naval Services Officers as well as a member of several other professional and service organizations.
Upon graduation from John F Kennedy HS in the Bronx, Sergio enlisted in the US Coast Guard Reserve where he retired with over 32 year of service at the rank of Commander. During his time with the Coast Guard Sergio has served in military, legal and law enforcement roles. Sergio has received commendations for service in numerous peacetime operations and served as a reservist during the Gulf war, was activated to service September 11, 2001 and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010.
Sergio has also served as an Emergency Medical Technician for the City of New York. Sergio received commendations for life saving and delivered 18 children (all girls!). As an EMT, Sergio worked in the Lower East Side of New York, Harlem, and the Bronx.
Sergio is a retired New York City Police Officer. While a member of the NYPD Sergio served the neighborhoods of the mid-west Bronx. His assignments included: Patrol, Community Policing, plain-clothes detail, and training officer. Sergio was an active Police Officer in defense of the Community making arrests ranging from armed robbery to spousal and child abuse. Sergio received awards for meritorious service and three integrity awards for arresting criminals who attempted to bribe him.
While working a member of the US Coast Guard Reserve, an EMT and later in the NYPD, Sergio obtained an Associate in Arts Degree, A Bachelor of Arts (political science)-with honors and finally a Juris Doctor from Fordham University Law School.
Eve Lynn Newman has been practicing law for more than 25 years. She is a graduate of New York University, holds a master’s degree from City University of New York and received her Juris Doctorate from the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law. She has had a Per Diem only practice for the last 20 years, exclusively appearing in Richmond county for the last 15 years.
Ms. Newman has served as Vice President of the Staten Island Women’s Bar Association and currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the Richmond County Bar Association. She is an Alternate Delegate from the 13th Judicial District to the New York State Bar Association. She has been active with the Richmond County Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyer’s Project and sits on its Board of Directors. She appears regularly in the Richmond County Foreclosure Part to assist pro se litigants.
Devon Galloway is a New York-based associate at the premier litigation boutique, Zuckerman Spaeder LLP. Since graduating from Columbia School of Law and completing his clerkship for Magistrate Judge Gregory J. Kelly of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Devon has maintained a broad-reaching litigation practice spanning health care, business litigation, and investigations. Presently, he is engaged in one of the most significant MDLs in the country. In addition to his billable work, Devon extends his talents and hours to his many deserving pro bono clients. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, this work has focused primarily on pursuing compassionate release for several individuals. When not hard at work on these matters, Devon devotes time to educating and empowering others to support compassionate release efforts.
A 1980 graduate of Vermont Law School, Joe served as an Administrative Law Judge and Commissioner at the NYS Division of Tax Appeals for over 29 years, deciding tax matters in every tax the State of New York administers. After his retirement in 2016, he began to volunteer with the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York’s Low Income Tax Clinic, taking assignments of clients with federal and state tax issues. While continuing with this representation, he began assisting with LASNNY’s uncontested divorce clinics as well as its Attorney for the Day program, negotiating for and appearing with clients in landlord/tenant issues in local city courts.
Kaitlyn J. Lauber is a 3L at the University at Buffalo School of Law. Prior to studying law, she earned a B.A. in Communication Studies from Buffalo State, while simultaneously working on an A.A.S. in Baking and Pastry Arts from the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute. As an aspiring family court practitioner and progressive social justice advocate, she intends to spend the duration of her career working to advance the public interest.
She worked as a volunteer at the Volunteer Lawyers Project Family Court Help Desk for the majority of 2020 as part of her work with the University at Buffalo School of Law Civil Access to Justice Clinic. Kaitlyn spent the summer working in the Volunteer Lawyers Project Positive Families and Individuals Unit, serving clients directly affected by HIV/AIDS with employment matters, housing disputes, estate planning, and gender-affirming name changes. Kaitlyn has spent nearly 400 hours working with hundreds of clients across Western New York in the last year.
Kaitlyn is a member of OUTLaw, a law school ambassador, and a peer-to-peer advocate. She spent her 1L summer with Hon. Kenneth F. Case in Erie County Court and writing policy papers for the Erie County Commission on the Status of Women. Kaitlyn was named a Buffalo Public Law Interest Program Fellow in 2019 and 2020.
Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP is a firm of more than 1,000 lawyers with diverse backgrounds, personalities, ideas, and interests who provide innovative and effective solutions to our clients’ most complex legal and business challenges. Paul, Weiss represents some of the world’s largest publicly and privately held corporations, financial institutions, and asset managers in their most significant legal matters. Paul, Weiss is also deeply committed to providing counsel to individuals and organizations in need of pro bono assistance; our pro bono program is all-encompassing, spanning the core issues facing our society, including racial justice, voting rights, immigrant protection, responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, and many other areas.
Sethi & Mazaheri, LLC is an immigration law firm deeply committed to the free movement of people across borders. Prior to founding their firm, partners Reza Mazaheri and Sanjay Sethi dedicated their careers to public interest and international human rights law, working at the United Nations and Human Rights Watch. Upon founding the firm, Mr. Sethi and Mr. Mazaheri made the provision of pro bono services a key part of their ethos, with each member of their staff dedicated to representing pro bono clients in a wide variety of immigration matters.
In 2017, after receiving several claims from prominent international artists seeking asylum and protection from censorship in their countries of origin, Mr. Sethi and Mr. Mazaheri conceived of the non-profit, Artistic Freedom Initiative (AFI), an organization dedicated to representing threatened artists. Sethi & Mazaheri also became a principal pro bono partner for AFI, providing hundreds of hours of pro bono immigration representation to at-risk artists every year. Substantively, Sethi & Mazaheri’s pro bono services include representation on artist visas, asylum petitions, deportation proceedings and travel ban waivers. The firm was also instrumental in adding other pro bono partners, such as such as Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP and Winston & Strawn LLP, enabling AFI to provide services to over 300 artists since its founding.
Professor Minna Kotkin, Director of the Employment Law Clinic
As the pandemic forced the closure of all nonessential businesses in March, Professor Minna Kotkin, director of the Employment Law Clinic, immediately recognized the challenges ahead. She anticipated that the unemployment insurance system, which would be critical in assisting those unable to work while under stay-at-home orders, would be overwhelmed by a deluge of applications, delaying their processing, and effectively denying benefits when they were needed most.
Kotkin knew the clinical program could help meet the need caused by this gap in service. By June, she had rallied students and administrators to launch the Pandemic Employment Relief Clinic (PERC). Through this innovative program, 100 students served more than 700 clients, including out-of-work drivers for ride-hailing apps, restaurant workers, film and theater actors, and many others, helping them navigate the unemployment insurance system.
PERC was kicked off with a two-day virtual bootcamp in which Kotkin taught the basics of unemployment insurance law and explained new opportunities created by the federal CARES Act. Guest speakers addressed issues related to family leave and disability discrimination.
To get the word out to potential clients, the clinic’s teaching assistants posted an offer for free legal services on social media channels, including Twitter and Facebook, which garnered hundreds of responses from individuals needing assistance with unemployment benefits hearings.
“Twitter was flooded with frustrated New Yorkers waiting for benefits,” said Jamie Levitt ’21. “We tweeted at New York unions, the New York Department of Labor, and Brooklyn Law School alumni in New York with large followings, who helped us get the word out about PERC.”
“The response from both students and clients exceeded my expectations,” said Kotkin. “I think the students felt good about helping people. They gained new skills, and they gained a lot of empathy.”
“This clinic experience completely changed my career focus,” said Amanda Perez ’22, a student who participated in PERC. “Helping people secure their due benefits, when they felt they would never hear back from the Department of Labor, made me realize I want to work in a client-focused field serving the public interest.”
The Attorney Professionalism Award is to honor a member of the NYSBA for outstanding professionalism, which is defined as dedication to service to clients and a commitment to promoting respect for the legal system in pursuit of justice and the public good, characterized by exemplary ethical conduct, competence, good judgment, integrity, and civility.
This year’s recipient of the 2021 Attorney Professionalism Award is June M. Castellano
June M. Castellano maintains a solo private practice in suburban Rochester. She offers representation to individuals facing family dissolution and other relationship issues in both litigation and collaborative law. She represents not only adults but children as well in Supreme and Family Court. She is a trained mediator and provides attorney-based mediation services. Ms. Castellano has advocated on numerous issues affecting family policy before legislative and administrative forums. She has developed and delivered educational programs and publications for attorneys and human services professionals. She has served in leadership roles with the New York State Bar Association, New York Bar Foundation, Monroe County Bar Association, and Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys. She is active in community service work, especially in the area of domestic violence and indigent legal services. In 2001, she participated in an international legal exchange to Novgorod, Russia where she lectured on New York domestic violence laws. She has served as an adjunct professor at the University of Rochester where she created and taught a seminar entitled “Women as Advocates.” Ms. Castellano received her Juris Doctor from Northeastern University School of Law and her undergraduate degree from the University of Rochester.
Please Note: the 2020 President’s Pro Bono Service Awards were not held due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
2021 Special Legal Services Awards Ceremony
A 2021 Special Legal Services Awards Ceremony featuring the Denison Ray Civil Award and the Phil Dailey Award was held during Pro Bono Month on Tuesday, October 19, 2021 from 5:00 – 6:30 p.m.
From President’s Committee on Access to Justice Co-Chair Edwina Frances Martin, Esq.:
2021 Special Legal Services Awards Ceremony featuring the Denison Ray and Phil Dailey Award Winners
Winner of the Denison Ray Civil Legal Services Attorney Award
Laura Diane Rolnick, Esq.
Laurie Rolnick is the Program Director for the Volunteer Lawyers Project of Central New York’s Eviction Defense Program. Laurie earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Cornell University’s NY State School of Industrial and Labor Relations, where she was an officer of the speech and debate team and active with Alpha Phi Omega, a national co-educational service fraternity. She then graduated with Honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law, where she was an active member of the Moot Court and President of the Trial Law Academy. Laurie worked for Jackson Lewis’ Atlanta, Georgia office, representing employers in labor law and employment litigation matters, before taking an in-house position with Medical Doctor Associates. Laurie spent several years as a disability advocate with Attorney Michael P Daly in Manlius, NY, focusing primarily on Workers Compensation and Social Security matters. She started with VLP in 2016 as a volunteer interim director of the Reentry Program and joined the staff in 2017. Laurie has held several positions within VLP, including work with the Reentry and Homeless Advocacy and Prevention Programs. She has been full time with VLP’s Eviction Defense Program since January 2018, and her goal is to promote safe and stable housing in the community. Laurie enjoys a wide variety of volunteer and recreational activities. Most recently, she has been an Academy member for the Syracuse Area Live Theater Awards.
Laurie is so thankful to Sally and Deb for the opportunity to be with the eviction defense program, and wants to especially thank Bethanie, Luz Marina, Tre’Coy, and the entire VLP family for their hard work and support. Special thanks to Alan, Rebecca, Jacob, Sky, and my mom and Dad. None of this work would be possible without you!
Eviction Defense and Tenant Rights Program Description:
The Volunteer Lawyers Project of Central New York Eviction Defense Program assists tenants facing the loss of their home through eviction. Every year we represent 800-1200 tenants at court. This can only be done with the help of a wonderful and talented group of volunteer attorneys, and our amazing Housing Team members Luz Marina Zender and Tre’Coy Boyd. The program was started by the wonderful Deborah O’Shea when VLP was with the Onondaga County Bar Association. She recruited local law firms to provide volunteer attorneys at court for these important, yet summary proceedings.
Our goal is always to promote safe and stable housing in the City of Syracuse and surrounding areas. We see community education and outreach as some of the most important work we do. We work to address underlying systemic factors that have led to injustice in our community housing situation. When Covid-19 closed the courts, we wanted to continue to provide assistance to those most in need, as well as continue to engage volunteers. We started a daily virtual Tenant Rights Clinic, which has helped provide much needed advice and counsel to hundreds of tenants during these turbulent times.
Winner of the Denison Ray Legal Services Director Award:
Cindy Kanusher, Esq.
Executive Director, Pace Women’s Justice Center
Cindy Kanusher, Executive Director of the Pace Women’s Justice Center (PWJC), has focused her career on domestic violence and legal services for the underrepresented. Twenty-three years ago, she joined PWJC, a legal services provider for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and elder abuse, serving Westchester and Putnam Counties.
During her tenure, PWJC has grown into a highly respected, multi-faceted legal services and training center serving over 3500 victims and survivors of interpersonal violence annually. After becoming Executive Director in 2015, she identified a need for a flexible legal service model for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and elder abuse. In response, she developed a walk-in clinic concept to provide free, bilingual legal services in a safe and accessible location; the new clinic and office space was inaugurated in June 2018. Since its opening, the clinic has been serving 70-80 victims of abuse monthly, increasing services by 20%.
Prior to becoming Executive Director, Cindy was responsible for oversight of PWJC’s Legal Helpline, Moderate Means Panel of lawyers, Elder Justice Unit, and PWJC’s rural sexual assault and domestic violence training programs, through which she has trained lawyers, judges, advocates, and law enforcement agents.
Before PWJC, she worked as an Assistant District Attorney in the N.Y. County District Attorney’s office for 10 years, specializing in the prosecution of child abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence cases. She is a graduate of Brandeis University and received her Law Degree from Brooklyn Law School.
Cindy has strong relationships with partner agencies and community members at large, serving on various boards and councils. She was appointed to serve on Westchester County’s Women’s Advisory Board in 2018, is on the Board of the Westchester
Women’s Agenda, and serves on the Westchester County Domestic Violence Council, Westchester County Anti-Trafficking Task Force, and Westchester County Families Task Force.
Winner of the Nonprofit Organization
Pace Women’s Justice Center
The Pace Women’s Justice Center (PWJC) is a civil legal services center within the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University. Founded in 1991, we were the first academic legal center in the country devoted to training attorneys and others on domestic violence (DV) issues and have since grown to be the largest civil legal services provider dedicated to serving victims and survivors of DV, sexual assault, and elder abuse in Westchester and Putnam counties.
PWJC’s mission is to pursue justice for victims, and prevent abuse through quality legal services, community partnerships, education, and awareness. PWJC provides direct legal representation for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and elder abuse, training, community education and outreach, service coordination, and referrals. With a staff of 29 and the contribution of pro bono attorneys, paralegals, and law students, PWJC provides legal services to almost 3,000 victims and survivors, and conducts over 140 training, community education and outreach events each year. PWJC serves clients in both Westchester and Putnam Counties, with a small percentage of clients coming from other parts of the NY metro area. 70% of clients served live in Westchester County.
PWJC has a long history of innovation in the provision of legal services to victims. Here are some of our key milestones:
- In 1998, we created a courthouse-based service for DV victims to receive same-day, walk-in services at two family courthouses (Family Court Legal Program), which focuses on obtaining emergency orders of protections and other legal safeguards. The program utilizes pro bono attorneys and staff attorneys and serves nearly 1000 clients annually. Clients who need ongoing representation after emergency protections are in place are referred to our Family Law Unit.
- PWJC has developed a dedicated group of volunteers in our Pro Bono Program, who enable us to serve many more clients than we could with paid staff alone. Our pro bono attorneys, law students, paralegals and court volunteers assist in our Family Court Legal Program, work in the Walk-In Legal Clinic, operate our Legal Helpline, and accompany clients to court (when safety protocols allow). The pro bono attorneys work exclusively in-house, where they are trained and supervised by PWJC’s staff attorneys. The Pro Bono Program has expanded significantly in the past 3 years with the addition of the Walk-In Legal Clinic in 2018. We now have 65 active volunteers who provide an estimated value of more than $2 million in work hours annually.
- In 2005, we were one of the first legal service providers in our area to recognize the issue of elder abuse, and to provide services to elderly victims. PWJC conducts training to professionals on this issue (police officers, healthcare providers, nurses, aides, and social workers) and conducts outreach to seniors to help them recognize abuse and educate them on how to seek help. We serve approximately 160 seniors in our Elder Justice Unit annually.
- PWJC’s Family Law Unit, originally founded in 2005 by the federal Office on Violence Against Women (part of the US Department of Justice) was innovative in its formal collaboration with community partners, recognizing that victims require a holistic community response. The Family Law Unit provides the full spectrum of legal service and representation to Community partners complement our legal services and provide victims with shelter, counseling, health care, benefits, and immigration assistance. The Family Law Unit serves over 400 clients each year.
- In 2018, we moved our offices, opened a new Walk-In Legal Clinic, and experienced a significant increase in funding, staff and client volume, much of this driven by the success of the A high-volume program that provides limited scope legal services, the Clinic provides a safe, private, welcoming space for victims of abuse to speak to an attorney, with or without an appointment.
The most significant change for PWJC in 2021 has been continuing to accommodate to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Center has remained fully operational during the Covid-19 Health Crisis, with all of our attorneys and staff working remotely from home as of mid-March 2020. We made the following accommodations to continue serving our clients without interruption during this challenging time:
- Phones: Our general office phone number remains fully staffed during normal business So that critical legal services can be delivered to clients immediately, and when they are needed, we created a new phone number for our court-based Family Court Legal Program for clients seeking help with ex-parte orders of protection. Our Legal Helpline remains fully staffed during normal business hours, and partially staffed after hours and on weekends.
- Video Chat: We have implemented 2 new web-based video platforms – Gruveo, which enables us to meet with and represent our clients remotely, and Microsoft Teams, which enables us to represent clients during remote court appearances. We upgraded our Zoom platform for more confidentiality. We have also secured software, Eversign, to enable clients to sign legal documents remotely.
- Walk-In-Clinic: Our staff and volunteers continue to meet both by appointment and on a “walk-in” basis with clients remotely. Our partner organizations also continued to keep remote “office hours” at the Walk-in-Clinic, to be available for any clients who need safety planning, counseling, and referrals for other social
- Community education and training: We are delivering our community education and training programs via audio and webinar
- Community outreach: Our dedicated staff is actively communicating with our community partners, supporters, clients, media, and the public to update them on our services and how we can continue to be a resource during this difficult
More recently, now that the courts have slowly begun to re-open, our Family Court Legal Program staff are once again serving clients on-site at the Yonkers and White Plains Family Court houses. In addition, when possible, our Training Outreach, and Education Director is engaging in in-person legal trainings, such as for police officers, and also in outreach opportunities such as National Night Out and community fairs.
We will continue to use the remote, web-based platforms to connect with clients who cannot reach us for reasons other than social distancing into the future, such as lack of transportation, or physical impairment or disability.
Winner of the Phil Dailey Award
Kelly Perine, Paralegal
Legal Assistance of Western New York, Inc.
Kelly Perine is a paralegal/advocate with Legal Assistance of Western New York, Inc. who works in LawNY’s Bath office in the domestic violence unit. Prior to joining LawNY in 2004 as an AmeriCorps paralegal, Kelly worked at Arbor Housing and Development’s Domestic Violence Program and Shelter. Kelly is a domestic violence survivor and brings that experience to her work. She also continues to work on a per-diem basis at the shelter and was a volunteer for the Sexual Assault Resource Center for 15 years.
When she became a LawNY staff paralegal in 2006, Kelly began working closely with Attorney David Pels on both domestic violence and public benefit cases. They worked together as a team to make a difference in the lives of clients who are often in desperate situations. Their model of trauma-informed representation of survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault is still used by the domestic violence team. Kelly is often the first contact when a client is referred to LawNY, and from there she continues to build the relationship through on-going safety planning, court accompaniment and regular check-ins just to see how the client is doing. Kelly also participates in case strategy sessions and client meetings, drafts pleadings and correspondence, and provides whatever other support is needed by the attorneys and clients.
Kelly also works on public benefits issues, negotiating with the Department of Social Services to help clients obtain public assistance and other critical public benefits. When cases do not resolve through negotiation, she represents clients in administrative fair hearings. She has earned the respect of several hearing officers who have made direct referrals of clients to her for representation. Kelly has focused particular attention on assisting clients who face barriers to employment due to an indicated report from Child Protective Services.
In addition to her direct work with clients, Kelly coordinates and facilitates the Steuben County Domestic Abuse Review Team. DART is a multi-disciplinary team focused on victim safety, offender accountability and community education on best practices for responding to domestic violence and sexual assault. In this role, she has helped promote best practices, such as use of the Danger Assessment tool in identifying high-risk domestic violence cases. Within LawNY, she facilitates a workgroup for attorneys and paralegals working on behalf of survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, as well as other victims of crime. More recently, Kelly took over facilitation of the agency Public Benefits workgroup. She has also been instrumental in assisting with grant applications and reporting for federal, state and local grants that help support LawNY’s work on behalf of survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Kelly was born and raised in Steuben County and spent most of her life in the area. She raised four children and is married to Paul Perine. When Kelly is not at work, she spends her time with her family including their 12 grandchildren. Kelly and Paul are involved in many local organizations and volunteer their time. Also, they share a love of history and spend time re-enacting both the French and Indian War and Revolutionary War time periods, along with doing school programs about the Revolutionary War.
Past Award Winners
Civil Legal Services Staff Attorney Award Winners
2018 Mary Beth Conway, Esq. and Jennifer Metzger Kimura, Esq.
2016 Josh Cotter, Esq. and David Kagle, Esq.
2014 Susan C. Antos, Esq. and Lori M. O’Brien, Esq.
2012 Michael Hanley, Esq. and Ian F. Feldman, Esq.
2010 Pamela J. Bayer, Esq. and Jeff Hogue, Esq.
2008 Jason D. Hoge, Esq. and James T. Murphy, Esq.
2006 David E. Ralph, Esq.
2004 Sarah Betsy Fuller, Esq. and Judith Studebaker, Esq.
2001 Carole Boccumini, Esq. and Joshua Zinner, Esq.
2000 Marc Cohan, Esq. and Peter O’Brien Dellinger, Esq.
1998 Michael Hampden, Esq. and Mary M. Withington, Esq.
1997 Leslie D’Cora Holmes, Esq. and Barry Strom, Esq.
1995 Margaret H. McDowell, Esq., Douglas Roy Ruff, Esq. and Wendy H. Wahlberg, Esq.
1994 Sheryl Randy Karp, Esq., Jerrold M. Levy, Esq., and William F. Mastroleo, Esq.
Legal Services Program Director Award Winners
2018 Barbara Finkelstein, Esq.
2016 Karen Nicolson, Esq.
2014 Alan S. Harris, Esq.
2012 Michael Rothenberg*, Esq.
2010 Steven B. Telzak*, Esq.
2008 Lillian M. Moy, Esq.
Pro Bono Program Director Award Winners
2012 Richard S. Hobish, Esq.
2006 Lisa A. Frisch, Esq.
Nonprofit Organization Award Winners
2016 Community Service Society of New York Next Door Project
2014 Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York
2012 New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG)
2010 Legal Health, a Division of the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG)
2008 The Worker’s Rights Law Center of New York, Inc.
2006 Western New York Law Center of Buffalo and its Executive Director, Joseph Kelemen, Esq.
2004 inMotion Inc.
2001 Greater Upstate Law Project (GULP), Inc.
Phil Dailey Award Winners
2018 Deborah O’Shea, Pro Bono Coordinator Onondaga County Bar Association
2016 Phil Dailey*
Empire State Counsel
The Empire State Counsel® Program recognizes NYSBA members who, during the prior year, performed 50 hours or more of pro bono legal services either through direct legal representation of a low-income/vulnerable individual, donating free legal services to an organization whose services are designed primarily to address the legal and other basic needs of persons of limited financial means, or providing free legal services to an organization dedicated to increasing the availability of legal services to vulnerable and/or low-income populations.
All Empire State Counsel® honorees receive a certificate suitable for framing and may use this honorific designation as a credential on their resume.
Partnership was not held in 2020. Plan to be held in fall 2022 – additional details shared when available in 2021.
We thank you for your support and efforts in assembling such wonderful programming and look forward to the day when we can safely meet together again. Information on the Denison Ray Civil Awards and Phil Dailey Award Ceremony will be circulated at that time.