Currently Available Pro Bono Opportunities
Listed below are pro bono opportunities currently available for referral. All pro bono referrals are made on behalf of Legal Aid’s clients, whose cases have been screened by our attorneys for legal merit and financial eligibility. In the overwhelming majority of cases, Legal Aid continues as Attorney of Record, and law firms and their attorneys serve as Of Counsel. A Legal Aid attorney remains on the case as a mentor until final disposition.
NOTE: These opportunities are only available to attorneys affiliated with firms that have an established pro bono relationship with The Legal Aid Society.
Please browse the current opportunities below, listed by category, and contact Andrew Childers, Pro Bono Administrator Pro Bono Practice, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (212) 577-3919 if you are interested in learning more about one of these matters.
Disabled Long Time Lawful Permanent Resident Appealing to Second Circuit to Prevent His Deportation
Legal Aid’s client is a 58 year old English-speaking Trinidadian man who has been a Lawful Permanent Resident for over 40 years. Chronically disabled after being run over by a car, he suffers from both cognitive and mental health issues. He has been detained in the Bergen County jail for over two years, has been ordered removed and his appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA “) has been denied. He is now appearing pro se in the Second Circuit and desperately needs pro bono assistance to remain in the United States.
Our client was abandoned by his parents at a young age and subsequently emotionally and physically abused by his other caretakers. During the 1980s and 1990s he had numerous contacts with the criminal justice system, including arrests for violent conduct, as a result of an addiction to crack cocaine for which he sought and received treatment. Although he has not had any arrests alleging violent conduct in over 30 years, he continued to have dozens of marijuana related and other minor arrests. Prior to his detention, he was relying on Social Security Disability benefits and housing subsidies to survive. Because of his mental health issues he is extremely vulnerable in detention and he has made numerous complaints against other detainees as well as jail/ICE officials. He has no family or other contacts in Trinidad.
He applied for a 212(c) waiver based on the type of crime and the date of conviction, a Withholding of Removal order, and Convention against Torture (“CAT”) protection before the Immigration Judge. All of those applications were denied at the agency level. We believe that this client has meritorious claims for Circuit review, including, but not limited to; engaging in impermissible appellate fact-finding in its CAT analysis; BIA’s failure to examine all of his mental health issues; and BIA failure to properly analyze this client’s social group formulations.
Although we anticipate the brief would be due in approximately four months, counsel can likely request additional time if needed once they have entered an appearance. The Legal Aid Society is not able to co-counsel so interested firms will sign a letter of engagement directly with the client. However, attorneys from our Immigration Law Unit, will be available for consultation.
PROTECTING THE RIGHTS OF WORKERS
Washington Heights Building Superintendent Seeks Pro Bono Assistance With Retaliatory Firing and Unpaid Wages Claims
From October 2013 until July 2017 our client worked as a superintendent for two buildings in Washington Heights containing 61 residential units between them. Our client worked 7 days a week, sometimes over 12 hours per day doing work that fit into his duties as a superintendent, as well as non-super work, such as electrical work, replacing sinks, tiling floors, painting, demolition work, plumbing, and more.
Initially, his employer agreed to pay him roughly $1,500 every two weeks for his work in both buildings. However, he was paid less than $850 every two weeks for the entirety of his employment. Upon receiving his first paycheck, he noticed the discrepancy in his pay, and after approximately six months gathered the courage to raise the issue with his supervisor. His supervisor advised him to talk to the owner, who in turn advised him to speak to his supervisor. At one point when he asked his supervisor about part of his pay, he was told that he was not going to receive the payment because there was no work to do at one of the buildings, despite the fact that he was often required to complete tasks at that building.
In July 2017 he again raised the issue with his supervisor, asking when he would finally be paid correctly. His supervisor told him “never” and fired him immediately. At that time, he told his supervisor he was owed for the work he had done, and his supervisor responded that our client was owed nothing, and that he would never pay him.
We believe our client was fired in retaliation for asking to be paid properly for his work. He is currently in housing court with a stay pending the outcome of the New York State Department of Labor claim. He also has a pending claim with the New York State Department of Labor Anti-Retaliation Division and the New York State Department of Labor Labor Standards Division.
While this matter is currently pending with the New York State Department of Labor, we wish to bring a case in State or Federal court in order to litigate and resolve all of our client’s legal claims. We believe our client has claims for unpaid wages and retaliation under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the New York Labor Law. We are seeking pro bono assistance filing and litigating this case.
CIVIL COURT LITIGATION
Residents of Rent Stabilized Building in the Bronx Seek Pro Bono Counsel to Bring Class Action for Unlawful Deregulation and Rent Overcharges By Landlord
The owners of 2523-2525 Aqueduct Avenue, Bronx, NY 10468, purchased the 51-unit building on August 20, 1999 and enrolled the already rent stabilized building in the 14-year J-51 tax exemption and abatement program in 2001. Each rental unit should have remained subject to rent stabilization for the duration of the tax benefits. Throughout these 14 years, and through to the present day, the owner failed to register the rents of the building and neglected to provide notice of the building’s rent-stabilized status. The owner also mislead tenants by specifically providing leases that claimed the apartments were labeled “not subject to stabilization,” and proceeded to overcharge the tenants of the rent-regulated units. According to various rent histories received from current tenants, the apartments were fraudulently registered with DHCR as exempt from rent stabilization from 2005-2018.
Authorized by the Real Property Tax Law § 489, the J-51 program allows owners of multiple dwellings to receive tax abatements or exemptions for rehabilitation and improvement projects. Rental units receiving this benefit are subject to the Rent Stabilization Law. Despite receiving this benefit, the owner has failed to comply with the Rent Stabilization Law and Code. Among other violations, the owner has failed to register rents for numerous units and failed to offer tenants rent stabilized vacancy and renewal leases in accordance with the law. New York City, N.Y., Code § 26-517. The owner has also charged rents in excess of the last registered rent. Id.; 9 NYCRR 2528.4.
The Legal Aid Society is looking for pro bono co-counsel to bring a class action in State Supreme Court. Working with experienced counsel from the Society’s Civil Law Reform and Housing Justice Units, volunteer attorneys will have the opportunity to engage in fact development, draft pleadings and memorandum, participate in discovery and motion practice, conduct negotiations, prepare parties, and represent the plaintiffs in all court proceedings.
COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT PROJECT ASSISTANCE
Pro Bono Counsel Needed To Provide Contract Drafting and Trademark Assistance for New Catering/Cooking Classes Business
This client is a recent college graduate from the Bronx who has launched a business providing personal catering service and cultural cooking classes. While in college in upstate New York, he started a food business preparing food for college students, teaching group cooking classes and doing one-on-one cooking demonstrations. The client has taught cooking classes in an industrial kitchen, provided intimate (small group) cooking classes, and catered several large events and will be conducting cooking classes at colleges in the fall. Pro bono counsel is needed to draft contracts/waivers for the catering business and cooking classes and provide assistance with trademarks for the logo and the business name.
Food Safety Consulting Service Seeks Pro Bono Assistance with Drafting Service Agreement and Release
Legal Aid represents a retired public health inspector with the New York City Department of Health who is starting a food safety consulting service to restaurants, helping them to comply with New York City and State health codes and regulations. The business will specifically target restaurants in Washington Heights, Harlem, and the Bronx that consistently receive a grade of B or lower. Pro bono counsel will provide assistance with drafting a client service agreement; and drafting a standard release.
ASSISTANCE IN SURROGRATES COURT
Pro Bono Counsel Needed to Represent Mother in Kings County Surrogate’s Court to Settle Federal Action Brought on Behalf of Son Who Died While in Department of Corrections Custody
The Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project (PRP) seeks pro bono counsel to represent this client in the administration of the estate of her son, who died while in the custody of the New York City Department of Correction (DOC). PRP represents this mother, who is the administratrix of her son’s estate, in her civil rights suit in the Southern District of New York. Sadly, her son committed suicide at the Manhattan Detention Center after DOC employees failed to take action in response to his serious mental-health needs and prior suicide attempts in DOC custody. The DOC was aware of this history and failed to order an emergency mental-health evaluation and house him in a mental-observation unit. He committed suicide by hanging in a general-population unit.
This mother, on behalf of herself and her son’s estate, obtained from the New York State Surrogate’s Court, Kings County, limited letters of administration that permitted her, among other things, to commence suit on behalf of her son and the estate under N.Y. E.P.T.L. § 5-4.1. She thereafter commenced suit in S.D.N.Y asserting claims of civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, along with state-law claims of wrongful death, negligence, and medical malpractice. The complaint sought compensatory and punitive damages. The parties recently reached an agreement in principle to settle the entire case.
Because the Surrogate’s Court issued our client letters of administration with restrictions, she must obtain that court’s permission to sign and formalize the proposed settlement agreement in the federal action. We must therefore return to the Surrogate’s Court to file a petition seeking permission to settle the federal action and thereafter distribute the assets. In light of Legal Aid’s lack of experience with Surrogate’s Court proceedings, we are seeking pro bono representation for this client for the Surrogate’s Court proceedings.
We believe that distribution of the estate will ultimately be straightforward: our client’s son had no children and owes no debts, and his mother was his sole provider. But there is one hurdle we must clear before getting approval to settle the federal action and distribute the assets – we must disqualify the son’s absentee father as a potential taker of the assets. Our client has informed us that the father never provided for their son and last saw their son when he was a baby. The father is believed to be in the Dominican Republic but when the Society attempted to serve him with the initial Surrogate’s Court papers related to the limited letters of administration, we were unable to locate him. In order to disqualify the father, we must attempt to personally serve him with the motion papers and petition. If we are not able to personally serve him in the Dominican Republic, we must proceed with asking the Surrogate’s Court to approve substituted service. Although serving and disqualifying the father may be time-consuming, once resolved, we understand the remaining Surrogate’s Court proceedings to be uncontroversial and uncomplicated. Although The Legal Aid Society will not be co-counsel on the Surrogate’s Court matter, an attorney from the Prisoners’ Rights Project will be available for consultation related to the matter. Interested law firms will sign a letter of engagement directly with the client and serve as independent counsel.
TRUSTS & ESTATES
Pro Bono Counsel Needed to Assist Son to Become Executor of Deceased Mother ‘s Estate
Legal Aid’s Employment Law unit was representing a client with a wage claim at the New York State Department of Labor who passed away while the claim was pending. Our client died intestate and her son is seeking pro bono assistance to become executor of his mother’s estate. Although The Legal Aid Society will not be co-counsel on the Surrogate’s Court matter, the mother’s Employment Law attorney will be available for consultation related to the matter. Interested law firms will sign a letter of engagement directly with the client and serve as independent counsel.
Research Assistance Needed Regarding Intellectual Property Rights of Creative Professionals
Legal Aid is participating in a coalition supporting state legislation to make it harder to misclassify workers as independent contractors rather than employees. During the course of the coalition’s work on the proposed legislation, a question has arisen as to the possible impact the bill would have on the intellectual property rights of people, for example, writers or photographers, who work on the borderline of employee/independent contractor. Normally, as a function of federal copyright law, employers own the copyrights on their employees’ work, whereas independent contractors own their own copyrights. However, there are a lot of different employment laws, state and federal, that define “employee” differently, so one could be an employee under one set of statutes and an independent contractor under others.
We are seeking pro bono counsel to prepare a research memo on the impact, if any, of state employment laws on intellectual property rights of such creative professionals. Volunteer attorneys would work with an experienced Legal Aid Employment Law Unit attorney on this project.