Pro Bono Program Triples in Service Hours, Attorneys Needed to Continue Growth

7/26/2013 | Facebook | Twitter | Email

While the pro bono program grew rapidly during the 2012-2013 academic year—from fewer than 10 active projects to nearly 25 different projects with 200 active student volunteers—attorneys are needed to bring the program to the next level.

Like interns, pro bono students allow the attorney to focus on the portions of the case that constitute practicing law, enabling the attorney to take on more pro bono work, expanding their impact on the community without expanding their costs. Attorneys and organizations that use students for pro bono service cultivate a new generation of volunteers. At the same time, students develop many of the professional skills that employers are seeking.

Students who join a pro bono project commit to completing at least 15 hours of service through a project each semester, though many students volunteer in the 50 to 100 hour service range. Last year, students completed nearly 2,500 hours for the year. 

Each of these projects requires attorneys or faculty members to supervise a few students in their work, and the program needs more attorneys to supervise students and new community partners to develop projects.

Active attorney involvement in the new pro bono/public interest requirements for bar admissions is a critical component of a multi-faceted approach to closing the justice gap.

If you are interested in having a student assist your pro bono work, please contact Nic Rangel at erang@albanylaw.edu or 518-445-2304.

Albany Law’s current projects include:

The Health and Human Rights project allows students to work with Albany Law faculty researching international law on prison conditions and the rights of prisoners, human rights violations and health concerns associated with prison conditions. This project works in partnership with the University at Albany Institute for Health and Human Rights.

Students who volunteer at the Albany County Family Court Help Desk assist litigants with understanding legal documents, provide legal information, and help them with their court forms. Those volunteers may also shadow pro bono attorneys assisting tenants in eviction and arrears disputes with landlords. The students engaged in this “Attorney for the Day” project interview tenants who do not have legal representation, assemble their documents and provide the pertinent information to the attorney so that the attorney can serve the client better and more efficiently.

The Immigration Assistance Project works closely with Albany Law School’s Immigration Clinic, and the Office for New Americans. The students involved in this project have developed a presentation on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to give to undocumented communities. They are also assisting the Office for New Americans with screening immigrants for citizenship eligibility during the office’s monthly “Citizenship Days” programs.

The Elder Law Project works in partnership with the Rural Law Center to give presentations at  libraries, and community and senior citizen centers around New York’s Capital District. Usually drawing 30 to 50 attendees, these popular presentations provide information on living wills, power of attorney documents, assisted living programs, consumer rights information, and other legal matters that are particularly important to aging adults.

This year the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project assisted four (4) Iraqi refugees in applying for refugee status under the supervision of local immigration attorneys. Those clients are currently displaced outside of their homeland, waiting for legal status in a new country. Students helped gather client information, completed research into the conditions that would justify refugee status for these families, and prepared the massive refugee status application packets.

Powered by probono.net, the lawhelpny.org program provides website users with a live instant messaging service. The program utilizes law students across the state to respond to website user inquiries as live-help specialists who help them locate legal documents and find legal information in general. These students were particularly helpful after Hurricane Sandy in assisting those affected by the storm in finding the information they needed on FEMA assistance applications and relief services.

The Matrimonial Law and Kinship Care Project, recipient of the 2012 Field of Dreams Award from the Legal Project, hosted four pro se divorce clinics this year, and provided important research assistance to the Rochester Kinship Care Program on kinship matters. The pro se divorce clinics allow law students to assist litigants in completing and filing uncontested divorce packets under the supervision of pro bono attorneys through the Legal Project- Capital District’s Women’s Bar Association.

The LGBT Rights Project partnered with the Capital Region NYCLU chapter and the Empire State Pride Agenda on the APD/ Transgender Protocol Initiative. Students researched police protocol and policies on interactions with transgender people from across the nation and drafted a new policy for the City of Albany Police Department, and the Albany County Sheriff’s Office on how to interact with transgender people while respecting their rights and preserving their dignity. Students also drafted a “Know Your Rights” brochure and wallet insert for members of the transgender community to refer to regarding how to preserve their rights during police interactions, and what police may and may not do during the interaction. Students will continue working on this initiative as New York State moves to implement the new Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) requirements for housing inmates.

This year the Veteran’s Right Project added bankruptcy assistance to its already robust list of services. Serving approximately 200 local veterans on matters from spousal benefits, tenant rights matters, and now bankruptcy, this project continues to be one of the most popular among students and local attorneys passionate about serving those who have served. 

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Project again completed countless hours assisting local community members with direct tax preparation assistance through the United Way and the IRS. Students completed an eight (8) hour course to become certified tax preparers over their winter break, and then spent their weekends at local libraries and other VITA sites around the Capital Region throughout tax season.