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Two members of the Albany Law School community have been honored with 2021 President’s pro bono service awards by the New York State Bar Association as part of the annual Law Day celebration.
Kelly M. Curro ’92 and Professor of Law David Pratt received the award for the 3rd Judicial District (Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Schoharie, Sullivan, Ulster counties) and the 4th Judicial District (Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Montgomery, St. Lawrence, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren, Washington counties), respectively.
Curro, an attorney at Ianniello Anderson, volunteers with the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York (LASSNY) to conduct pro se divorce clinics. She has continued to facilitate these clinics virtually throughout the pandemic. Typically, the clients need a legal professional to help navigate the steps to finalizing their divorce.
“It’s helping them navigate the process. The instructions and pro se forms that they might give someone at the courthouse are overwhelming,” she said.
The work is rewarding and fits into her private practice schedule, she said.
“These are needed services. Even if attorneys don’t have the time commitment to give to a large case, there are so many ways you can offer pro bono services and expertise that are very valuable and meet a need for people who would otherwise lack access to the court system,” she said. “Reach out to local nonprofits, they are always willing to have attorneys come in and offer assistance. People think it is a monumental task and difficult to work into your private practice, but it can be what you make it. The amount of people who get a benefit from it is incredible to see.”
Pratt, who is Albany Law’s Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor, was honored for his work assisting retirees from St. Clare’s hospital in Schenectady who learned their pensions would be slashed dramatically after the hospital claimed the fund was running out of money. Legal professionals, including Victoria Esposito, an attorney with LASSNY, are helping the retirees fight for their retirement funds.
“The honor is shared with the rest of the attorneys. It’s been a terrific group effort. I am certainly grateful and honored,” he said. “We always knew it would be difficult. We are very determined. We’re not going to go away. I have rarely in all my professional life felt as strongly as I do about offering help to the people in this case. They are terrific people and they were banking on that money for their retirement and they are really at a loss.”
In addition to helping students in learning the law, Pratt—a member of the faculty since 1994—makes an impact through his encouragement of students finding pro bono work.
“Pro bono is a really important part of the law school. We are very firm believers in getting our students into the habit of finding time for pro bono services. We hope it’s something they will do throughout their careers. It’s enormously important to be able to provide access to justice to those who wouldn’t be able to afford it,” he said. “I am truly delighted that our students are so willing to engage in pro bono activities. Our students are by-and-large really good people with good motives and really big hearts. We want to make it possible for them to do it and continue it into their careers.”