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For decades, the
Albany Law Clinic and Justice Center has served as a training ground for future attorneys. But just as important has been the Clinic's work for the community.
By providing a wide range of free legal services to those most in need, the Law Clinic and Justice Center is making a lasting impact on the Capital Region and its residents.
During the 2017-18 academic year, students, through the Clinic, provided law-related pro bono work totaling tens of thousands of hours. They helped immigrant youth and asylum-seekers, served as a resource for budding nonprofits and startup businesses, relieved the legal burdens from clients receiving treatment for chronic medical conditions, represented survivors of domestic violence in the courtroom, helped prosecute cases for area Special Victim Units, and much more.
Below are some of their stories:
'WELCOME TO AMERICA'
This year, two
Immigration Law Clinic (ILC) students overcame multiple hurdles representing an asylum-seeker from Haiti, who was detained and transported to the Buffalo area. The students, opposed by an attorney for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), conducted multiple interviews and hundreds of hours of legal research. The immigration judge ultimately granted the client's asylum on humanitarian grounds, telling her, "Welcome to America." The clinic is working to obtain work permission for the client, who now resides safely in the U.S. with family members.
In the fall, the Immigration Law Clinic—responding to the immigration needs of youth in the Capital District, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) cases—took six students to conduct a "pop-up" intake and referral clinic with community organizers and volunteer interpreters in the Hudson Valley.
Students in the spring semester successfully argued in Columbia County Family Court for the issuance of an order that would lay the foundation for a child to be able to apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJ) due to the child's abusive father. The judge was so persuaded by the students' arguments that he further issued an order of protection to keep the child and her mother safe, opening a potential pathway to immigration status for the mother, who is the victim of the father's violence. Students this coming fall will work on that application with the hope of providing security to both mother and child.
ILC students both semesters worked on projects involving: outreach to local detainees to determine whether they were lawfully detained; assisting local police departments to identify best practices to better serve immigrant victims of crime; and began researching the growing trend of municipal governments and law enforcement agencies creating immigrant-friendly governance policies.
In addition, the Immigration Law Clinic has been working with the Legal Project
to provide legal representation and translators to
detained immigrants being housed in the Albany County jail.
Above and beyond her casework, pro bono scholar Anneliese Aliasso designed and gathered data through a survey of New York law schools with immigration clinics. She presented her findings at the Office of Court Administration's Annual Access to Justice Conference, framing a conversation about how law school clinics can better collaborate with undergraduate institutions and interdisciplinary approaches to serve New York's immigrant communities.
Learn more about the Immigration Law Clinic. Director:
Professor Sarah Rogerson.
FUELING COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
Through the continued support of Edward P. Swyer and The Swyer Family Foundation, the Community Development Clinic helped dozens of nonprofits and small businesses with key business law and transactional legal representation. In the spring semester alone, Community Development Clinic students created one for-profit and three nonprofit organizations, and assisted three nonprofits in applying for tax-exemption status.
In Schenectady, the Community Development Clinic is
representing a community group that is organizing to acquire, renovate, and reopen
the historic Carver Community Center, which first opened during the civil
rights movement. The Clinic is assisting the group in preparing for the acquisition
of the property, obtaining recognition of federal income tax exemption, drafting letters of intent from potential tenants, and advising on financing products to
redevelop the property.
The Community Development Clinic partnered with business
improvement districts and community organizations throughout the Capital Region
to provide free legal workshops—educating residents on the legal issues that
could come up during the lifecycle of a business—including standalone events on
commercial leasing and doing business online. The Clinic also partnered with
The Legal Project, Innovate 518, and the Community Loan Fund of the Capital
Region to provide brief legal consultations to small businesses.
Other work included: drafting a white paper for a trade association on capital
access models for under-resourced manufacturers; creating organizational
policy for an online-based company. The Clinic expanded beyond the Capital
Region by partnering with a dozen other law school transactional clinics to
study barriers to entrepreneurship through a grant from the Kauffman Foundation.
Community Development Clinic also joined Facebook and Twitter, and launched the blog 518 Community Connections, as it continues
to build on its mission
to be a legal resource for individuals and groups in the Capital Region who are
creating opportunities to improve the social and economic conditions of their
communities. Staff Attorney and Clinic Fellow David
Craft joined the Clinic in July 2017 and was instrumental in deepening the
Clinic’s connections within the Capital Region and with community-based groups, and expanding
the Clinic’s outreach both in person and online.
Learn more about the Community Development Clinic. Director:
Professor Edward De Barbieri.
REPRESENTING SURVIVORS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE…
Family Violence Litigation Clinic (FVLC) continued to provide excellent representation to an underserved population in our community: women and men who have been subjected to violence in its many forms.
In the past year, FVLC students provided legal services to 21 individuals and
successfully advocated in over 30 court proceedings.
Read more: Q&A with FVLC Director Jaya Connors
Each student—seven in the fall semester and eight in the spring—successfully argued cases on behalf of their clients before family courts in Albany, Rensselaer and/or Saratoga Counties. The students' advocacy helped survivors of domestic violence obtain custody of their children in over 15 such matters; assisted in limiting or suspending visitation between abusers and the children in five visitation matters; helped obtain five child support orders for their clients; and helped obtain five orders of protection.
All students drafted legal pleadings. Four of the students filed motions and engaged in motion practice.
Alexandrea Matott, who was a student in the fall semester, returned in the spring as a research assistant. One of her projects involved researching and drafting a paper for the Office on the Prevention of Domestic Violence on the use of therapy animals in courts to assist victims of domestic violence.
Learn more about the Family Violence Litigation Clinic. Director:
Professor Jaya Connors.
… AND PROSECUTING THE PERPETRATORS
Domestic Violence Prosecution Hybrid Clinic (DVPH), 13 students assisted in the prosecution of domestic violence and sexual assault cases in Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, and Schenectady counties. Their cases this year involved sexual assault and abuse, harassment, rape, criminal trespassing, violation of protection orders, sexual conduct against a child (felony), disseminating indecent material to minors, and several other matters.
The students performed a series of simulated criminal law exercises, which included interviewing special victims, handling an arraignment calendar, making or opposing a bail application, negotiating a plea deal, and conducting a preliminary hearing.
Students also had "live" opportunities. Nicholas Marricco and Evan Bruscia both conducted hearings. Rebecca Wager, Louis Testani, Andrew Gelbman, and Andrew Christian worked court calendars in Rensselaer County. In Albany County, Arianna Beltrez conducted discovery; Andrienne Walters handled arraignments while Berlande Benoit spoke on the record and handled a plea submission. In Saratoga, Allee von Stackelberg, Avery Sullivan, Gabriella Cavanagh, and Megan Crandall sat in on complicated special victim interviews while assisting with research.
All 13 students observed or assisted in staffing the prosecution role in seven local courts.
Students were trained, mentored, and/or supervised in court by approximately 20 experienced attorneys, 14 of whom graduated from Albany Law School. Five of the supervisors themselves used DVPH as a pipeline to practice.
The Domestic Violence Prosecution Hybrid Clinic involves a partnership between four local district attorneys' Special Victim Units and the Law Clinic and Justice Center. The clinic's intention is to educate tomorrow's criminal law attorneys on the complicated and challenging work of holistically and knowledgably prosecuting crimes of domestic violence and sexual assault; DVPH interns assist local prosecutors in supporting victims and prosecuting these crimes. In addition, the DVPH works on the Capital Region's coordinated community response (CCR) to intimate partner violence through regional and local taskforces such as the Albany County Coalition Against Domestic Abuse (ACCADA), the Albany City Court Domestic Violence Court Advisory Group, and the Rensselaer County Integrated Domestic Violence Court Stakeholders Group.
Additionally, 19 students in the Domestic Violence Law seminar, taught by Professor Mary A. Lynch, performed research in areas critical to supporting survivors, holding abusers accountable, and improving community and legal system response to domestic violence. The work included a student's project with the state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence on the linkage between domestic violence, homicide, femicide, and firearms.
Learn more about the Domestic Violence Prosecution Hybrid Clinic. Director:
Professor Mary A. Lynch.
EASING BURDENS FOR THE CHRONICALLY ILL
During the past academic year, 17 students interning in the
Health Law Clinic represented 45 clients in 50 cases. Health Law Fellow Chaula Shukla represented an additional 15 clients, all of whom have at least one chronic health condition or are living with a family member with a chronic medical impairment.
Many of the clinic's clients are coping with the stressors of living with the effects of cancer, HIV/AIDS, mental health conditions, and/or substance abuse.
Read more: Q&A with Health Law Clinic Director Joe Connors
In 2017-18, the Health Law Clinic: helped its clients finalize emergency plans for their children, including establishing court-approved standby guardianship or kinship foster care arrangements; appointed trusted family members or friends to make health or financial decisions in the event of the client's incapacity; prevented clients from being evicted or having their home health care services reduced; resolved custody disputes in the best interests of minor children; challenged discriminatory practices which denied clients full access to places of public accommodation; and advocated for the safe discharge of clients from restrictive hospital or rehabilitation centers back to their homes in the community.
Interns represented a grandmother coping with AIDS, depression, and back pains at a Medicaid fair hearing, preventing the client's home health care services from being reduced from 21 hours per week to eight hours per week as proposed by her managed care provider; settled a federal court action involving the termination of kinship foster care benefits which a client had been receiving for her minor grandson; obtained a favorable decision following a Social Security Administration hearing, awarding retroactive Supplemental Security Income disability benefits to April 2014 for a 22-year-old mother struggling from the combined effects of an intellectual disability and HIV; prevented a client from being evicted from public housing, while protecting her housing subsidy and the long-term safety of her and her children; and counseled a client who has been subjected to the terms of a community civil commitment order for over 20 years, following a plea to an old charge.
Clients consistently reported that
the clinic's legal services helped relieve emotional stress, which was adversely affecting their health. "We have been fortunate over the past year to have several opportunities to celebrate with our clients," said Health Law Clinic Director Joe Connors. "Our interns' impact on their clients' lives was significant."
The Health Law Clinic also provides cost savings to the state and its counties by successfully helping many clients move from government-funded temporary public assistance programs to federal Supplemental Security Income disability benefits.
The Health Law Clinic continued its collaborative relationships with Albany Medical Center, St. Peter's Health Partners, New York Oncology and Hematology, the Alliance for Positive Health, and the Damien Center. Its collaborations include the HIV AIDS Law Consortium with the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York and a
Medical-Legal Partnership with St. Peter's Health Partners.
Learn more about the Health Law Clinic. Director:
Professor Joseph Connors.
IN THE FIELD
Pro Bono Scholars Program, 10 students were authorized to take the bar exam before graduation and then spend their final semester of law school assisting public interest organizations on behalf of clients who might not otherwise have had access to the legal system. Students provided close to 5,000 pro bono hours representing immigrant clients, assisting criminal defendants in local courts and in federal courts, advocating for youth in facilities, helping clients facing end-of-life decisions, and advising victims of gender discrimination.
Eight recent pro bono scholar graduates were sworn in and admitted to practice on June 27. They are passing the baton to eight rising third-year students, who have been selected to participate in the 2019 Pro Bono Scholars Program.
Field Placement Program, a total of 96 law students learned from experience in a variety of public law offices in the Capital Region. Students conducted hearings and trials in local courts under the supervision of experienced defense attorneys or prosecutors; advised inventors and reviewed patent applications with attorneys at the SUNY Research Foundation; assisted the Governor's Counsel's Office in researching and advancing legislative and policy proposals; drafted legal memoranda and other documents for the U.S. Attorney's Office; performed legal research and drafted proposed decisions for judges in state and federal courts; and much more.
Learn more about the Field Placement and Pro Bono Scholars Programs. Director:
Professor Nancy Maurer.
42,000-PLUS PRO BONO HOURS; NEW FUNDING TO EXPAND SUPPORT FOR VETERANS AND SERVICE MEMBERS
While the New York Court of Appeals requires 50 hours of law-related volunteer work from every law school graduate, dozens of Albany Law students in the graduating class of 2018 logged 100s of hours, some beyond 1,000 hours, or over 25 weeks of full-time work over their law school careers. All told, the Class of 2018 exceeded 42,000 hours of pro bono service during their time at Albany Law School.
In September, the Elder Law Pro Bono Project held its annual Senior Citizens' Law Day, providing local seniors and their caregivers free educational workshops and brief attorney consultations. In November, the Veterans' Rights Pro Bono Project held its own Law Day, organizing free consultations for around 50 area veterans and service members. Other projects focused on LGBTQ+ rights, labor law and workers' rights, and more.
Professor Edward W. De Barbieri, who directs the Pro Bono Program at the Law Clinic and Justice Center, said that for many students, "this is the first time they have the chance to apply their skills and knowledge to actual client problems—to experience the transformative power of their education in meeting the needs of their clients."
The Pro Bono Program also is thrilled to
announce that Albany Law School was awarded $150,000 over three years by
the New York State Division of Veterans' Affairs to expand the work of
the Veterans' Rights Pro Bono Project. Joining a select group of New
York-based law schools, the Veterans' Rights Pro Bono Project will
provide assistance to meet the unmet legal needs of veterans and
servicemembers and their families. Project collaborators include The
Legal Project, Albany Stratton VA Medical Center staff, various county
veterans service officers, and pro bono attorneys from area law firms.
The inaugural Veterans Rights Summer Fellow, Douglas Berinstein ’20, is
working in the general counsel's office of the North Atlantic Division
of the Department of Veterans Affairs, located at Albany Stratton VA
Learn more about the Pro Bono Program. Director:
Professor Edward De Barbieri.
ENTREPRENEURSHIP LAW IN EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES HYBRID
During the past academic year, four student teams represented technology entrepreneurs based in New York State and Massachusetts. In total, the students traveled about 500 miles with Professor Seve Falati in order to interview the entrepreneurs and begin the clinical component of this theory-practical hybrid, new technology-focused course.
The upper-level Albany Law students taking this course obtained real-world experience working with tech entrepreneurs who are developing new technologies to address varied needs. The new technologies developed by the entrepreneurs related to more accurate GPS positioning tools, novel ways to use music in business, new technologies for locating commercial items on the seas, and a new household item for reorganizing a cupboard to obtain clutter-free space.
The entrepreneurs had varying levels of expertise: a student-led team in an active technology incubator in Massachusetts; a professor alone, and a professor and student team, both in upstate New York; and a serial entrepreneur based in Massachusetts who had remarkable commercial success from her first idea related to special blankets for babies.
Learn more about the Entrepreneurship Law in Emerging Technologies hybrid course. Instructor:
Professor Seve Falati.
The Albany Law School Clinic and Justice Center is funded, in part, through public grants and private donors. For more information please contact the clinic at 518-445-2328, or