On October 23 rd , 2010, NYLAG was honored by Mayor Bloomberg’s Office, the New York State Courts’ Access to Justice Program, and the New York State Bar Association with the New York State Court Pro Bono Award. The award came as part of National Pro Bono Week, an annual celebration of pro bono lawyers across the country. This week-long coordinated effort showcases the impact of current volunteer attorneys while encouraging more lawyers to dedicate their time to meet the increasing needs of low-income clients for representation in civil legal matters.

NYLAG and the New York State Access to Justice Program of the Unified Court System began a partnership in 2010 in order to bring the Consumer Credit Volunteer Lawyer for a Day Project (VLFD) to the Bronx. The VLFD is a new and innovative initiative that helps New Yorkers enforce their legal rights by providing low-income pro se defendants with limited representation for their consumer debt cases in the Bronx Civil Court.

Since its inception, the VLFD has grown considerably and has made great strides in protecting debtors who were previously unrepresented and uninformed of their rights. The project, which relies on the passion and availability of volunteers, has seen an increase in the number of individuals willing to donate time to the cause. Recently, even more retired and practicing attorneys—including those experienced in consumer law— have joined the ranks of law students and law graduates, adding to the diversity of the volunteer cadre.

Daphne Schlick, Supervising Attorney of the project at NYLAG, is optimistic that this honor will help to raise awareness for consumer law issues. “The honor came from Mayor Bloomberg’s office and the Courts,” Schlick stated. “Even though some speculate that the current recession may soon be coming to an end, the financial ramification for consumers is not even close to over. The fact that the Mayor’s Office is honoring the people who do this important work is a good sign that government officials recognize the crucial role consumer credit issues play in the financial security of New Yorkers, and the City as a whole,” she added.

Based on recent government estimates, a mere 4% of consumer credit defendants are represented by counsel. This staggering statistic highlights the critical role the VLFD Project plays in the economic justice landscape, and makes this recognition all the more significant. Ms. Schlick hopes the award will bolster the project’s growth and encourage volunteers to continue advocating on behalf of consumers for equitable outcomes; eventually shrinking that statistic considerably.