NYLAG Honored As Courts Celebrate 10,000 Consumers Served by Volunteer Lawyer Program
The New York State Courts Access to Justice Program hosted a reception on April 18 at the New York City Civil Court to celebrate having served 10,000 consumer debt defendants through its Volunteer Lawyer for the Day (VLFD) Program. NYLAG, which operates the program in the Bronx and Queens Civil Courts, was honored along with other partners, Appleseed, the Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project and the New York County Lawyers’ Association.
The VLFD program was launched three years ago to address the staggering increase in the Civil Court Consumer Debt docket. At that time, 99% of consumer defendants were unrepresented while 100% of plaintiffs had attorneys. To help level the playing field, the Court conceived of a program that would use pro bono attorneys to provide limited assistance to unrepresented litigants on the day of their court appearance.
“We are so proud of the hundreds of attorneys who have provided legal representation through this program and our four partner organizations who have worked with us to achieve justice for so many thousands of litigants,” said Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Fern A. Fisher.
The NYLAG award was accepted by Abby S. Milstein, longtime chairman of NYLAG’s Board, who thanked Justice Fisher and the Courts for recognizing the serious obstacles low-income New Yorkers face when they are summoned to court by debt collectors. “The Volunteer Lawyer for the Day Program is a testimony to how much can be accomplished in a single day, if you have a good idea, the right leadership, and a talented team,” said Milstein. “Today we celebrate an amazing milestone. But none of us would be here if another milestone had not occurred three years ago, when the New York State Courts Access to Justice Program first conceived of and launched this impactful program.”
In March 2009, Judge Fisher was appointed Director of the newly formed NYS Courts Access to Justice Program, whose mission is to increase access, improve the delivery of justice and promote public confidence in the courts. The program is dedicated to improving equal access to justice for New Yorkers of low-income and modest means who cannot afford an attorney by making it easier to navigate the court system.
NYLAG has partnered with the Access to Justice Program on a number of projects. Thanks to the Courts’ donation of space in housing court, NYLAG attorneys represent and advise low-income tenants in landlord housing disputes, preventing unnecessary evictions. And in December 2011 – thanks to initial funding from the David Berg Foundation, and in partnership with the Access to Justice Program, NYLAG launched its Mobile Legal Help Center, which to date has helped over 2,000 people.