Collaboration within NYLAG Fosters Relationships to Benefit Clients

NYLAG prides itself on being a “full-service” agency, providing clients comprehensive services on myriad legal issues that affect the quality of their lives.  For Ms. M, an immigrant from Sierra Leone, this model helped to greatly improve her life and that of her dependents.

Ms. M first contacted NYLAG in 2007 and has since received assistance on six separate matters that touch on issues including domestic violence, divorce, child support, child custody, guardianship, and immigration asylum based on female genital mutilation. To ensure that all of Ms. M’s legal problems were addressed, a collaborative effort was made by drawing on the expertise and experience of NYLAG’s Domestic Violence Clinical Center (DVCC), its Pro Bono Program, and two NYLAG Units. Ms. M’s case, and many like it, demonstrates the power of the intra-organization collaboration that makes NYLAG unique and effective in changing the lives of New Yorkers for the better.

Amanda Beltz and Virginia Goggin, then clinical students in the DVCC supervised by Lisa Rivera, the Associate Director of NYLAG’s Matrimonial and Family Law Unit (FLU), were the first to provide legal assistance to Ms. M. Their diligent research and advocacy resulted in positive outcomes for Ms. M in family court. They obtained an order of protection against her abusive husband, secured her sole custody over her child, and won a child support award.

One year later, Ms. M contacted NYLAG for help in seeking a divorce. She told stories of abuse that included her husband burning her with a cigarette and threatening her with a knife. Alison Sclater, NYLAG’s Director of Pro Bono, secured Ms. M pro bono counsel from the law firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, who then filed a divorce on the grounds of cruel and inhuman treatment. Initiated last year, the divorce was recently granted.

Following her successful divorce proceedings, Ms. M again approached NYLAG for assistance regarding the protection of her niece, an immigrant from Guinea who was genitally mutilated at age 5. Ms. M needed help to obtain guardianship of and asylum for her niece.  FLU’s Amanda Beltz, now a Skadden Fellow, and Franca Kaloko, a paralegal and Board of Immigration Appeals Accredited Representative with the Immigrant Protection Unit’s (IPU) successfully represented Ms. M.  They were able to obtain temporary guardianship while simultaneously filing an asylum petition on the niece’s behalf. The situation was urgent and complicated—the seven-year-old child had no documents and was approaching the one-year deadline for filing for asylum. She also urgently needed continued health care of high quality, as she was at the time recovering from spinal cord surgery in addition to having tuberculosis. NYLAG attorneys filed her application for asylum efficiently and effectively, ensuring that the child would not be deported.

NYLAG attorneys continue to be in contact with Ms. M, as she considers the possibility of naturalization. Ms. M’s cases demonstrate that having access to free legal services on multiple issues through one, integrated provider builds trust and lasting relationships, which ultimately benefits NYLAG’s clients.