NYLAG Celebrates the Contributions of its Pro Bono Partners
On Tuesday, July 15 the New York Legal Assistance Group held its 2014 Summer Pro Bono Celebration. The cocktail reception was spearheaded by NYLAG’s Associate Board, which hosted the event to celebrate the contributions of the agency’s pro bono partners, and recognize the outstanding achievements of law firms and attorneys who have gone above and beyond in their commitment to partnering with NYLAG to provide legal assistance to low-income and vulnerable New Yorkers. The event was held at the Heath, a chic bar located in Chelsea’s McKittrick Hotel, and despite a thundering sky outside, the room was packed, spirits were high and the speeches heartfelt but brief. To see photos from the event, click here.
“We could not accomplish all of the great work that we do at NYLAG without our Pro Bono Partners,” said Yisroel Schulman, NYLAG’s President and Attorney-in-Charge. “The people and the firms we honor here tonight have played an integral role in helping NYLAG provide legal assistance to thousands of vulnerable New Yorkers. NYLAG is incredibly grateful for the expertise, passion, and dedication of our partners.”
NYLAG’s Associate Board, established in 2008, works to introduce new ideas, raise money, expand public awareness and help increase pro bono services at NYLAG. The agency’s robust program offers a wide range of meaningful opportunities for attorneys, law graduates and law students to engage in pro bono service and increase access to justice for low-income New Yorkers. To see a list of current Board members, click here.
The event paid tribute to thirteen law firms and fifteen attorneys who contributed their resources, time and talent to NYLAG. Individual NYLAG staff members presented the awards to the pro bono partners with whom they had worked, describing in detail how the honoree had helped to improve the life of their client.
2014 Pro Bono Firm of the Year
Kirkland & Ellis LLP
A longstanding NYLAG pro bono partner, Kirkland & Ellis has shown remarkable versatility, taking on a wide range of matters for low-income clients. In the area of Family Law, for example, the firm created a signature project to help clients seeking divorce. Since the project’s launch five years ago, under the leadership of partner Stefanie Wool, Kirkland has handled 40 uncontested and simple divorces for low-income clients, some with limited English proficiency. While simple divorces generally involve the completion and filing of template forms, they are not without occasional wrinkles, and are often intimidating to the clients seeking a divorce. Kirkland treats every client with kindness and respect, answering the many questions that arise during the course of a matter with patience, and ultimately obtaining the judgment of divorce that each client is anxious to receive. Kirkland has also proven to be an outstanding partner of NYLAG’s Mobile Legal Help Center, traveling with the vehicle to numerous sites around New York City to screen clients on matters ranging from Public Assistance fair hearings to immigration. Recently, under the leadership of associate Andrew Katzenberg, Kirkland developed a project to help elderly clients complete healthcare proxies and living wills onboard the vehicle. Such services are priceless to elderly clients, many of whom face mobility issues and could not travel to an office to complete these very necessary and important documents. Overall, Kirkland & Ellis is a preeminent pro bono partner, and NYLAG is incredibly appreciative of all that the firm does to support us and our clients.
Pictured (Left to Right): NYLAG President Yisroel Schulman with Jacqueline Haberfeld, Stefanie Wool, Edward Sadtler, Andrew S. Katzenberg and Marjorie Lindblom of Kirkland & Ellis LLP.
2014 Pro Bono Coordinator of the Year
Rene A. Kathawala
Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP
Rene Kathawala, Pro Bono Counsel with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, is an invaluable resource and has been instrumental in the growth of NYLAG’s LGBT Law Project. Rene is an accomplished litigator who now heads Orrick’s pro bono practice, both supervising and directly working on cases in such diverse areas as immigration law, family and matrimonial law, housing law, public benefits law, and employment law. Since the founding of the LGBT Law Project five years ago, Rene has worked closely with NYLAG to help expand life planning services for the LGBTQ community. As a result, in January 2011, NYLAG launched its monthly LGBTQ Life Planning Legal Clinic, which is staffed by volunteer attorneys from Orrick coordinated by Rene. The clinic has already served over 200 clients. In addition, Rene brings knowledge and understanding of the pressing legal issues impacting low-income LGBTQ New Yorkers and has assisted with numerous pro bono cases ranging from housing matters to asylum claims, enabling NYLAG to serve an even greater number of community members in need. In addition to pro bono legal services, Rene works closely with NYLAG’s LGBT Law Project to better leverage the Project’s contacts and partnerships at local law schools and help raise awareness and support within the private bar.
Pictured (Left to Right): Yisroel Schulman with Rene A. Kathawala, James H. McQuade and Jill L. Rosenberg of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP
Hogan Lovells has worked with NYLAG’s LegalHealth Division on life-planning matters for seriously ill low-income clients since 2012. Partner Howard Topaz and associate Meaghan Atkinson have handled several matters since the project launched. In May 2013, they answered NYLAG’s call to help Rebecca, a young, single mother, after she received the devastating news that she had terminal breast cancer. Although Rebecca had few liquid assets, she was the sole proprietor of a small business and had many questions about how to handle her business affairs and best plan for her 8-year-old daughter’s future. While Howard and Meaghan were working on her estate planning documents, Rebecca was admitted to Memorial Sloan Kettering with a prognosis that gave her only a few days to live. Within hours of receiving the call, Howard and Meaghan traveled to the hospital, where Rebecca was able to sign her updated Will while she still had the capacity to do so. Thanks to Howard and Meaghan’s hard work, and their immediate response when the matter became urgent, Rebecca’s desired estate plan was in effect, including her wishes for her daughter’s care, when she passed away a few days later.
Pictured (Left to Right): Howard M. Topaz and Meaghan L. Atkinson of Hogan Lovells LLP
Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP
Michael Barkow, Counsel with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, has handled 14 pro bono cases for NYLAG immigrant clients, including 13 complex asylum matters, since 2008. Michael’s clients were victims of horrific persecution in their home countries, and Michael has assisted each one with incredible sensitivity, patience and kindness. He recently helped Amina, a 28-year-old woman who sought NYLAG’s help to obtain asylum after she came to the United States to escape persecution in her home country of Somalia. Thanks to Michael’s tireless efforts, she was granted asylum and can now live peacefully in the United States. Michael has also filed family petitions and obtained travel documents for many of his clients’ spouses and children, enabling them to reunite with their families in the United States, often after many years of separation.
Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP
Blaire Cahn, an associate with Weil, Gotshal & Manges, provided critical legal representation to Yulia, an immigrant mother from Ukraine who sought NYLAG’s help with a divorce. The divorce was expected to be simple, as the Family Court had already issued an order of custody and child support, but then Yulia’s husband hired a lawyer to contest the child support order. Undeterred, Blaire and her team were relentless in fighting for Yulia—who spoke little English—and brought the case before a referee. Blaire negotiated a comprehensive child support agreement, which included substantial arrears as well as a new monthly payment amount that Yulia’s husband ultimately agreed was fair, leading him to meet his child support obligation. Blaire’s tenacity helped the case progress until Yulia ultimately obtained her desired divorce, as well as the child support payments that were crucial to meeting the basic needs of her young son.
Pictured (Left to Right) Antoinette Delruelle, Coordinating Attorney of NYLAG’s Mediation Project, and Blaire Cahn of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP
Shearman & Sterling LLP
Stacey Corr-Irvine, an associate with Shearman & Sterling, along with former associate, Marina Moon, helped obtain asylum for Fatim, a survivor of domestic violence, rape, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation (FGM) from Guinea. Fatim was only 15-years-old when she was forced to become the fourth wife of a much older man. Her husband and the other wives brutally abused Fatim, and her husband repeatedly sexually assaulted her throughout their marriage. Fatim fell in love with another man and, upon learning that she was pregnant and fearing that her husband would kill her and her unborn child, fled to the United States. When Stacey met Fatim, she and her son were on the brink of homelessness and Fatim was suffering from nightmares, anxiety, and depression due to her husband’s abuse. Stacey made a compelling argument to the Immigration Judge that Fatim had been unable to file her asylum application within one year of her arrival in the United States because she was still suffering from the trauma of her persecution in Guinea. Fatim was granted asylum, and Stacey is now helping her to obtain a green card. Due to Stacey’s hard work and perseverance over many years, Fatim and her son now live safely and peacefully in the United States.
Kathryn A. Kelly
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP
Kathryn Kelly, an associate with Gibson Dunn, uses her expertise as a tax lawyer to help low-income clients struggling to navigate the complex U.S. tax system. One of Kathryn’s clients, a 50-year-old man with stage four cancer, had used his pension funds to pay his medical expenses only to learn he was liable for more than $7,000 of additional tax. Kathryn reviewed his medical files and tax documents and determined that he should not be liable for the additional tax because of his disability. She ultimately helped him to claim the necessary exemption with the IRS, resolving the matter without the client having to pay the additional tax. A second client, a recent immigrant, had been assessed a civil penalty of $5,000 after his tax preparer claimed a deduction to which he was not entitled. Recognizing that the penalty was more than half of the client’s yearly income, and five times his actual tax liability, Kathryn persuaded the IRS to reduce the penalty to $500, saving the client $4,500. Thanks to her expertise and persistence, Kathryn was able to craft solutions that would have been difficult, if not impossible, for these clients to achieve on their own.
Pictured: Kathryn A. Kelly of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP
Alexandra (Sasha) Lewis-Reisen
Alexandra (Sasha) Lewis-Reisen has served as a volunteer attorney with NYLAG’s Matrimonial & Family Law Unit since October 2012, during which time she has donated over 1,000 hours of service. She started her relationship with NYLAG when she was an associate at O’Melveny & Myers, working on pro bono family law appeals for victims of domestic violence. Sasha has handled complex matrimonial matters involving custody, equitable distribution, child and spousal support, and child protective issues, all while assisting with a heavy load of family law intake calls. Sasha also helped develop cases for pro bono referral, and provided mentoring support, including attending court appearances, with pro bono attorneys at law firms who are new to family law practice. Sasha’s unwavering commitment to NYLAG and her willingness to take on anything that is asked of her has made her an invaluable member of NYLAG’s team, and we are thrilled that she will be joining us as a full-time Senior Staff Attorney next month.
Pictured (Left to Right): Kim Susser, Director of NYLAG’s Matrimonial & Family Law Unit, Alexandra (Sasha) Lewis-Reisen , and Lisa Rivera, Associate Director of NYLAG’s Matrimonial & Family Law Unit
Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP
Lisa Lupion, an associate with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, has been an invaluable resource to NYLAG over the past year, providing expert analysis on a number of substantive employment law matters. Lisa regularly advises NYLAG on issues including hiring and termination procedures, employee benefits plans, compliance with New York City’s Paid Sick Leave law and other personal leave regulations, and confidentiality agreements for volunteers. Lisa has also worked on the significant project of updating NYLAG’s personnel manual. Lisa responds to all of NYLAG’s questions and requests for guidance with the same thorough research and analysis she gives her paying clients, and we are very grateful for her ongoing assistance.
Pictured (Left to Right): , Yisroel Schulman, Jed Snerson, NYLAG Chief Financial Officer, Lisa Lupion of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, and Jill L. Rosenberg, NYLAG Board Member
NYLAG’s Consumer Protection Project has benefited greatly from the assistance of Michael Massman, who initially served as a summer intern during law school, and has continued to make a difference as a volunteer attorney since he graduated. Michael assists the Volunteer Lawyer for a Day Consumer Credit Project in the Bronx and Queens county civil courts, which provides representation for consumer-defendants—99% of whom would otherwise appear pro se. He has successfully argued motions to vacate default judgments based on faulty service, challenged the validity of plaintiffs’ claims, and helped negotiate favorable settlements for clients. Through his work with NYLAG, Michael has helped hundreds of New York families navigate the stressful court experience and obtain debt relief. He is an extremely compassionate advocate, and has a remarkable knack for explaining difficult legal concepts in a way clients can easily understand. Michael is a very thoughtful and conscientious attorney dedicated to defending consumers’ rights and providing access to justice for all litigants.
Pictured (Left to Right): Michael Massman and Shanna Tallarico, NYLAG Staff Attorney with the Consumer Protection Project
Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP
Micah McOwen, an associate with Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, has handled a large variety of pro bono matters with NYLAG since 2007. Micah has helped victims of domestic violence with child support matters, in addition to using his expertise as a real estate lawyer to assist individual and organizational clients with their real estate needs. He helped a low-income woman in Harlem negotiate a favorable tenancy agreement, and assisted a student in Brooklyn to resolve issues around the deed to her family home after her mother passed away. Micah has also represented not-for-profit organizations, including NYLAG itself, in commercial lease negotiations, sales of property, and other agreements. Despite his own very busy practice, Micah rarely says no to a request from NYLAG for help on a pro bono matter. Micah is also a founding member of NYLAG’s Associate Board, helping to craft and support its ongoing fundraising and pro bono activities.
Pictured (Left to Right): Alison Sclater, NYLAG’s Director of Pro Bono, Micah McOwen of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, and Yisroel Schulman
Jane W. Meisel
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP
Jane Meisel, Counsel with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, has represented three NYLAG clients seeking asylum in the United States, obtaining victories for all of them. In one of her cases, Jane led a pro bono team to assist Mariam, a survivor of female genital mutilation (FGM) and sexual assault from Guinea. Mariam was only 14-years-old when her family forced her to come to the United States. As a result of the trauma that she had endured in Guinea, Mariam continued to suffer from anxiety and extreme depression in the United States. This was amplified after her family began pressuring her to bring her U.S.-born daughters back to Guinea in order to subject them to FGM. This pressure led Mariam to seek asylum. Because more than 10 years had passed since her arrival, Jane and her team had to show that Mariam had been unable to file her asylum application at an earlier date because she was still suffering from the trauma of her persecution. Jane and her team put together a thorough and carefully crafted case, and Mariam was awarded asylum. Because of Jane’s heroic advocacy, Mariam is now a permanent resident of the U.S. and she and her children are now living free from harm.
Pictured (Left to Right): Norma Tinubu, Supervising Attorney of NYLAG’s LegalHealth, and Jane W. Meisel of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP
Christopher C. Paci
Chris Paci, a partner with DLA Piper, has been an invaluable resource to homebound and seriously ill clients of NYLAG’s LegalHealth Division. He has provided pro bono assistance for numerous clients by preparing powers of attorney, health care proxies and last Will and testaments. The majority of Chris’ clients have mobility impairments or are in-patients in a hospital or rehabilitation facility following surgery, requiring that he travel to meet with them in their homes and hospital rooms. Chris has given these vulnerable clients great comfort in knowing that their wishes are documented and that their final affairs will be handled by a loved one. Through his pro bono service, Chris has expanded the level of assistance NYLAG can provide to its most vulnerable clients and taught our partners in healthcare organizations the value of pro bono contributions from the private bar.
Maritza Schaeffer and Lance Soderstrom, associates with Alston & Bird, helped preserve safe and affordable housing for Debra, a 59-year-old client of NYLAG’s LegalHealth Division who was suffering from chronic liver and kidney disease. Debra lived with her aunt for several years in a rent-stabilized apartment, but was not listed on the apartment’s lease. When her aunt passed away, Debra received eviction papers from the landlord, and sought help from NYLAG to avoid becoming homeless. Maritza and Lance agreed to represent Debra in her challenging Housing Court case, taking on the difficult burden of proving she was a “non-traditional family member” and “like a daughter” to the leaseholder. They litigated the matter for nearly a year, appearing in court many times, engaging in discovery and conducting depositions, and ultimately negotiated a settlement. Debra now lives happily in a different unit in the same building, paying rent she can afford on her fixed income of disability benefits.
Pictured (Left to Right): Lance Soderstrom and Maritza C. Schaeffer of Alston & Bird LLP
Click here to view more photos from this event.