Members of the Leap Coalition gathered for the first annual Leap Conference with the goal of collectively addressing the legal issues arising from the economic crisis. The Leap Coalition is a legal advocacy partnership comprised of ten direct legal services providers in New York City. Over 200 advocates attended the conference, as well as several notable elected officials including Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, Senator Kevin Parker and Senator Jose Perez. Senator John Sampson was the keynote speaker. The New York Legal Assistance Group played a primary role in organizing the conference.

Due to the current economic crisis, New Yorkers are increasingly calling on the Leap Coalition’s legal services providers. The conference represented the first occasion that the organizations could address this issue collectively. Lisa Rivera, a NYLAG supervising attorney and conference coordinator, described the impetus for the conference: “We as legal services providers face a difficult challenge. The needs of our indigent and working poor clients are increasing, with the added challenge of tightening budgets. The conference provided the basis for a fruitful discussion of effective solutions.”

Presentations, organized around the theme of “Civil Legal Services Respond to the Economic Crisis,” took place throughout the day. Presenters discussed topics such as foreclosure defense, health insurance for the unemployed, domestic violence, housing court practices and debt collection defense.

Two NYLAG Family Law Unit attorneys, Amy Hozer and Anya Emerson, gave panel-style presentations that focused on domestic violence in the current economic climate. They specifically discussed representing clients who are in receipt of, or whose children are in receipt of, Supplemental Security Income or Public Assistance and how the receipt of such benefits can alter the litigation strategy.

Hozer feels that the conference succeeded in its goal to facilitate discussion, particularly through its panels. “The Leap conference allowed public interest attorneys the opportunity to share their individual areas of expertise with one another in a relaxed setting which, by design, invited dialogue among the participants. I believe that presenters and participants left the conference feeling more confident and better prepared to address the legal issues arising from the recent economic crisis.”