L to R: NYLAG Chair Abby Milstein, Honoree Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann, Honoree Matthew Biben, Sandra Hauser of Dentons, NYLAG President Yisroel Schulman

L to R: NYLAG Chair Abby Milstein, Honoree Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann, Honoree Matthew Biben, Sandra Hauser of Dentons, NYLAG President Yisroel Schulman

The New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) held its fourth annual Gala on April 8th at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan. The event honored Matthew Biben, General Counsel of JPMorgan Chase’s Consumer & Community Banking; Robert A. Katzmann, Chief Judge of the Second Circuit US Court of Appeals; and the global law firm, Dentons. The most successful NYLAG event to date, the 2014 Gala raised over $1.75 million and was attended by more than 625 guests.

This year’s Gala celebrated NYLAG’s dedication to providing free civil legal services to low-income New Yorkers, and highlighted the agency’s service to immigrant communities. New York has the largest and most diverse immigrant population of any city in the world, with over 3 million immigrant residents. Reflecting this rich cultural fabric, more than half of the 65,000 clients NYLAG served last year were foreign born. Cases are handled by the agency’s staff of more than 200 paid professionals, who speak over 20 languages. Their work is augmented by the contributions of over 1,000 pro bono attorneys, law students and other volunteers.

“NYLAG’s Immigrant Protection Unit has grown enormously since its inception, and today represents clients in all areas of immigration law, including challenging and complex cases that other providers cannot take on,” said NYLAG Board Chair Abby Milstein, a founding partner of Constantine Cannon. “Under the energetic leadership of Director Irina Matiychenko, the unit is the largest component of NYLAG’s pro bono practice, the largest provider of free civil legal immigration services in New York City, and one of the largest providers in the US.”

Watch video: Service to New York's Immigrant Communities

Watch video: Service to New York’s Immigrant Communities

Gala guests enjoyed a cocktail reception and silent auction, with music provided by artists from The Julliard School, followed by dinner in the Grand Ballroom. The awards program was hosted by NBC 4 New York’s Emmy Award-winning reporter Pei-Sze Cheng. A highlight of the evening was the premiere of a moving video about NYLAG’s work with clients, including an LGBT asylum applicant, a working mom who was scammed by a for-profit school, and a victim of domestic violence. Watch the video.

2014 Honorees

Matthew Biben accepting the 2014 Corporate Leadership Award. Watch Biben's Acceptance speech.

Matthew Biben accepting the 2014 Corporate Leadership Award. Click above to watch a video of Biben’s full acceptance speech.

As the recipient of the 2014 Corporate Leadership Award, Matthew Biben was recognized as an extraordinary leader and role model, who balances success in business with a deep commitment to public service. He began his career in government, serving in the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and the New York County District Attorney’s Office. Today he is on the board of the New York Legal Assistance Group and Cornell University Board of Trustees.

In accepting his award, Mr. Biben said, “There are three million immigrants in our city. They are the life blood, the energy, of New York. They take care of our kids, drive cabs, start small businesses, and build them into bigger businesses. But while they are doing this, they are vulnerable and at risk. NYLAG is their lifeline – and the lifeline of so many people in need of a realm of legal services. I am proud to be associated with NYLAG and the profound work that they do.” Watch the full speech.

Judge Robert A. Katzmann accepts to 2014 Visionary of Justice Award. Watch Katzmann's full acceptance speech.

Judge Robert A. Katzmann accepts to 2014 Visionary of Justice Award. Click above to watch Katzmann’s full acceptance speech.

Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann received NYLAG’s 2014 Visionary of Justice Award for his career-long fight for the rights of immigrants. He has used his influence and authority to raise awareness of the shortage of competent legal representation for immigrants, particularly those of modest means who are facing deportation. To proactively institute change, he launched the Study Group on Immigrant Representation, in which NYLAG participated, and conceived of and advanced the creation of a new attorney fellowship program, the Immigrant Justice Corps.

“When I think about things that give us hope, I think of NYLAG. When we work for immigrants we not only honor our immigrant past, we honor those here and now who will make this country even greater than it is,” said Chief Judge Katzmann in accepting his award. “I am so fortunate that the Immigrant Justice Corps has now been launched. We hope that in the next three years we will be able to help nonprofit providers to double the capacity of services for immigrants and unite the generations – the young lawyer, the college graduate, the senior lawyer – all marching for access to justice.” Watch the full speech.

L to R: Gala Co-Chair Joseph Polizzotto, Yisroel Schulman, Abby Milstein, Ben Weinberg, Sandra Hauser, and Mike McNamara.

L to R: Gala Co-Chair Joseph Polizzotto, Yisroel Schulman, Abby Milstein, Ben Weinberg, Sandra Hauser, and Mike McNamara.

NYLAG’s 2014 Underwriter Award was presented to Dentons in recognition of the law firm’s extraordinary commitment to pro bono work, and in particular its advocacy on behalf of elderly and disabled Medicaid recipients via a class action lawsuit filed against New York City and New York State in 2006. Dentons worked as co-counsel with NYLAG on the case, Shakhnes v. Eggleston, for over seven years, donating in excess of 4,000 hours of pro bono assistance before the matter was successfully resolved. Dentons US Managing Partner Mike McNamara, lead Partner on the case Sandra Hauser, and Pro Bono Partner Benjamin Weinberg jointly accepted the award.

0110The 2014 Gala Co-Chairs were Bridget M. Healy, NYLAG board member and EVP & Chief Legal Officer of Voya Financial; Joseph Polizzotto, NYLAG board member and General Counsel of Deutsche Bank – Americas; and Gordon A. Smith, CEO, Consumer & Community Banking, JPMorgan Chase. More than sixty law firms participated as event sponsors.

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