NYLAG Launches Mobile Legal Help Center
The New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) recently launched the Mobile Legal Help Center, the country’s first legal services office and courtroom on wheels. This innovative vehicle is a partnership between NYLAG and the New York State Courts’ Access to Justice Program, and was created with funding from the David Berg Foundation.
The 41-foot vehicle provides free civil legal services to low-income individuals who face barriers to accessing legal services. These obstacles include geographic isolation, lack of access to public transportation, physical disabilities, childcare concerns, lack of English proficiency, and fears about immigration status. Lawyers from NYLAG operate the mobile center with the New York State Courts’ full cooperation, and are able to provide onboard advice, legal counseling, and direct representation in a different neighborhood each day. While a limited number of other mobile legal programs exist in other states, this unique combination of a mobile legal services office and a mobile courtroom is the first of its kind in the United States. “We saw a need, and we rushed to address it,” said Yisroel Schulman, NYLAG President and Attorney-in-Charge. “People who can’t access our intake sites now have free legal services near their doorsteps.”
The state-of-the-art vehicle can accommodate 17 people at once and boasts all the amenities of a standard office, including three private interview rooms, a separate booth for client intake, computers, a printer/copier/fax, and a high-speed wireless internet connection. One of the rooms is equipped with videoconferencing that provides access to judges for emergency proceedings, including unlawful evictions and orders of protection in cases of domestic violence. After electronically exchanging paperwork and interviewing a litigant, the judge signs and faxes the order to the vehicle and the client can walk away with a copy.
Before deploying the vehicle to a particular location, NYLAG coordinates with local social service agencies, community leaders and government officials to get a sense of the legal expertise and language fluency needed in their respective regions. Jane Rosales, coordinator of the Mobile Legal Help Center, explains, “This communication enables us to accommodate the unique needs of every community. While our onboard staff members may specialize in a particular area of law, they are trained to intake clients on multiple issues and to make referrals to other NYLAG departments. We never turn anyone away.”
“The Mobile Legal Help Center is a pioneering effort to bring legal services and legal information to New Yorkers who encounter the greatest obstacles in obtaining assistance in their own communities,” said Judge Fern Fisher, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for New York City Courts and Director of the New York State Courts’ Access to Justice Program.
The Center has attracted the attention of numerous elected officials and social services organizations and has been featured repeatedly in media outlets including the Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio, NY1, Inside City Hall, and the New York Law Journal. Rosales reports that the Center is fully booked through May, with more requests pending for the summer. The Mobile Center is currently making stops in 16 different locations per month and is expected to serve at least 2,000 New York State residents this year.
Even before the recession, at least 80 percent of low-income people with civil legal needs were not able to access services – and this number has only continued to rise. Judge Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of the State of New York, strongly supports the new initiative: “Equal access to justice is one of the great challenges facing our system today,” he said. “The Mobile Legal Help Center is a groundbreaking effort to address this issue.”
For more information, photos and press about the Mobile Legal help Center, click here.