In pursuit of equality under the law—NYLAG’s history
What started as a grassroots organization with one full-time attorney has today grown into a leading non-profit offering comprehensive, free legal services, as well as financial counseling, impact litigation, and policy advocacy efforts. Scroll down to relive NYLAG’s biggest moments in its history.
New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) forms
NYLAG was incorporated in 1990. Its purpose? An anti-poverty organization to assist not only those experiencing poverty but fill the gap for those whose income exceeded federal poverty guidelines but who were still unable to afford an attorney. NYLAG formed with just a small $50,000 grant and one full-time staff attorney.
NYLAG starts an Immigration Project
NYLAG began its Immigration Project helping Jews from the former Soviet Union. (In 2020, Immigration is NYLAG’s largest practice area. In 2019, it affected the lives of 35,900 immigrants from 170 countries of origin, helping with a range of cases from asylum claims to deportation defense.)
NYLAG fills legal need for domestic violence survivors with groundbreaking clinical center
NYLAG created the Domestic Violence Clinical Center (DVCC) to collaborate with local NYC law schools to train a new generation of attorneys that specialize in family law and domestic violence to increase capacity and expertise. The clinic started by doing only orders of protection and has grown cover visitation, child support, uncontested divorces, and the intersection of immigration and domestic violence. Hundreds of students have participated in the clinic and have gone on to work in public interest and criminal justice.
NYLAG wins injunction against NYC for illegally curtailing access to Medicaid, food stamps, and public assistance
NYLAG and its legal services co-counsel won a preliminary injunction against New York City and State in Reynolds v. Giuliani, stopping the Giuliani administration’s ill-conceived conversion of Income Support Centers to so-called “Job Centers,” which illegally curtailed access to Medicaid, food stamps (SNAP), and public assistance.
10-year update: NYLAG staff and budget grows
NYLAG grew to nearly 30 staff members and a $2.4 million budget, providing free civil legal services that included immigration, domestic violence, and public benefits.
NYLAG is first legal service org to respond to 9/11
On September 12, 2001, NYLAG established its September 11th Response Team. The team assisted over 2,300 victims of the World Trade Center Disaster, including 320 immediate family members of victims. This set the tone for NYLAG’s rapid response culture.
NYLAG launches what is known today as the United States’ largest medical-legal partnership
NYLAG’s LegalHealth Unit is launched, complementing medical care with legal care for patients experiencing poverty or with low-income. (Today it is the largest medical-legal partnership in the U.S.).
NYLAG gets landmark decision on medical benefits for immigrants who lawfully reside in NY
Thanks to NYLAG, the New York Court of Appeals ruled in Aliessa v. Novello that immigrants who lawfully reside in New York State (NYS) are entitled to receive Medical benefits. The unanimous landmark decision held that NYS’s denial of Medicaid to immigrants violated the federal and state constitutions.
NYLAG secures monumental settlement for children with disabilities, regardless of age, to use Access-a-Ride
NYLAG, with co-counsel, secured a settlement in Obregon v. MTA that allows all children with disabilities, regardless of age, to use Access-a-Ride. The settlement insured that families experiencing poverty and with disabled children will no longer have to pay for costly private transportation.
NYLAG opens NYC’s first Appellate Project for Domestic Violence Survivors
NYLAG launches The Appellate Project, the first of its kind in NYC, to handle appeals in family offense cases, as well as matrimonial, support, custody and visitation cases involving domestic violence.
NYLAG establishes first-ever National Cancer Legal Services Network (NCLSN)
NCLSN promotes access to healthcare and increasing the availability of legal services for people living with cancer.
NYLAG absorbs thousands of immigration cases from other organizations
NYLAG absorbed all of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society’s (HIAS) local immigration services after HIAS closed its legal services division; NYLAG also absorbed about 3,300 new immigration cases on behalf of New York Association for New Americans (NYANA), as they got ready to close.
NYLAG immediately responds to recession by creating Consumer Protection Project and Financial Counseling Division
NYLAG’s Consumer Protection Project and Financial Counseling Division were created in the wake of the recession. Financial counseling became NYLAG’s first and only non-legal services unit.
10-year update: NYLAG’s services and budget expands
From 2000-2010, NYLAG grew to 117 staff members and a $9 million budget, expanding to include special units and projects around disability advocacy, employment law, Holocaust compensation, foreclosure, elder law, LGBTQ issues, and special education.
NYLAG creates a rapid response project to address dire immigration needs of the earthquake victims in Haiti
NYLAG launched Haitian Temporary Protected Status project after the 2010 earthquake. It’s the largest in the City, utilizing large-scale pro bono clinics.
NYLAG launches New York’s first-ever civil legal services office on wheels
NYLAG launched New York State’s first-ever civil legal services office on wheels (Mobile Legal Help Center) to bring lawyers into local communities that have historically been underserved. For many populations, such as people who are geographically isolated and people with disabilities, access to high-quality free legal services can be out of reach. NYLAG changed that.
NYLAG introduces Storm Response Unit after Superstorm Sandy
Immediately after Superstorm Sandy, NYLAG introduced the Storm Response Unit. It became the largest provider of storm response legal services in New York. (In 2017, NYLAG used its expertise to train attorneys in Puerto Rico, Florida, and Texas in the days and weeks following Hurricanes Maria, Irma, and Harvey.) In 2019, the unit closes after achieving its goals.
NYLAG achieves settlement with NYCHA regarding elevator maintenance
Thanks to NYLAG, the Court approved a settlement in Brito v. NYCHA requiring New York City Housing Authority to better maintain its elevators in order to accommodate people with mobility impairments.
NYLAG is now in every NYC public hospital
As of 2014, every public hospital in New York has a NYLAG LegalHealth clinic. (Today, LegalHealth is in 37 hospitals and medical facilities, and as of 2020 partnered with its first Children Hospital, Blythedale.)
NYLAG wins precedential name-change case for trans immigrant
The New York State Appellate Term, First Department, overturned a lower court decision and granted an undocumented transgender woman’s name change request. This is the first appellate decision clarifying that undocumented immigrants who are residents of New York can get a court-ordered name change. The plaintiff was represented by NYLAG’s LGBTQ Project.
NYLAG opens the United States’ first women veterans’ legal clinic
NYLAG started and operated the first women veterans’ legal clinic in the U.S. As of 2019, the clinics have obtained over $1.5M for our women veteran clients, the majority of whom have survived military sexual trauma.
NYLAG among first to get #TimesUp funding
In response to the increasing number of workplace sexual harassment survivors coming forward in the wake of the #MeToo movement, National Women's Law Center created the #TimesUp Legal Defense Fund. NYLAG was one of the first to obtain funding to help low-wage workers fight for justice.
NYLAG co-authors important immigration law for undocumented parents
The new Standby Guardianship law—which NYLAG drafted with pro bono partner Greenberg Traurig—was signed into law and implemented. It allows immigrant parents to designate a trusted guardian to care for their children should they be separated due to immigration enforcement.
NYLAG joins new legal collaborative for immigrants in removal
In response to dramatically increased immigration enforcement, NYC and NYS created a Rapid Response Legal Collaborative, which includes NYLAG, to represent immigrants detained by ICE facing imminent removal.
NYLAG names a Chief Equity & Inclusion officer to tackle race equity issues
Caprice Jenerson (pictured right) is named NYLAG’s first ever Chief Equity & Inclusion Officer. This is an outgrowth of our strategic plan, which includes a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. NYLAG believes that we cannot competently address the legal and financial crises of our clients without challenging structural racism and its impact in our daily work
10-year update: NYLAG triples its budget and staff
NYLAG’s budget is $33 million impacting the lives of 90,800 adults and children. We have 191 attorneys, 69 paralegals, 13 financial counselors, and 2,215 pro bono attorneys/volunteers. In the last 10 years, NYLAG introduced new programs such as mediation for divorces, a tenants’ rights unit, and veterans’ project.
NYLAG responds to the COVID-19 pandemic
COVID-19 changed the world around us, and, by necessity, we had to adapt to new ways of working. NYLAG responded quickly to the COVID-19 crisis by creating two COVID legal hotlines, one for NYC residents and one for patients in NY hospitals, overhauling our domestic violence work to address the most urgent cases where danger was immediately present, advocating for necessary policy changes such as new laws to protect tenants and safer conditions for those experiencing homelessness, drafting and advocating for an Executive Order to protect children of frontline workers and much more.