Browse the latest Pro Bono Opportunities at The Legal Aid Society.
NOTE: These opportunities are only available to attorneys affiliated with firms that have an established pro bono relationship with The Legal Aid Society.
If you are interested in working on one of these matters, please contact the Pro Bono Counsel at your law firm to receive authorization and check conflicts.
Incarcerated Client Seeks Pro Bono Counsel to File Supplemental Petition to Pending Clemency Application
Legal Aid is seeking pro bono counsel to draft and file a supplemental petition to a pending emergency clemency application on behalf of a 35-year-old client of our Prisoners’ Rights Project who is incarcerated at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (“Sing Sing”) and seeking clemency. Our client was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being convicted of two counts of Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the 3rd Degree and one count of Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the 3rd Degree (amounting to $40.00 worth of drugs) and began serving his sentence at Sing Sing in 2012. Due to his good behavior over the years, our client will be eligible for Merit Release in December 2025, and is scheduled for Work Release in February 2023. He has completed nearly all his mandatory programs and is on the waitlist for Comprehensive Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment, in which he plans to participate. Additionally, our client facilitated the Nonviolent Conflict Resolution program and has participated in vocational and other educational programs. His rehabilitation is evident in his disciplinary record and thoughtful reflection on his personal growth while incarcerated.
Our client has four children and a partner eagerly awaiting his release from prison. His younger brother passed away from cancer in early 2020, leaving behind a one-year old daughter for whom our client desperately wants to step up and be present. A correctional officer from Sing Sing, as well as our client’s mother, aunt, minister, and numerous friends have written letters in support of his rehabilitation and release. Our client plans to become a professional truck driver and is studying to obtain a Commercial Driver’s License. He also wants to open up his own barbershop one day. His father passed away from COVID-19 last year and his mother now lives alone so our client plans to live with his mother in her home in Poughkeepsie, New York once he is released.
Legal Aid assisted this client with filing a pro se emergency clemency petition and is now seeking a volunteer attorney, who under the supervision of a Legal Aid Criminal Appeals Bureau attorney, will prepare and file a detailed supplemental application on our client’s behalf.
Protecting the Rights of Workers
Pro Bono Counsel Needed to Represent Trafficked Immigrant Client in Federal Court Against Employers
Originally from Hong Kong, The Legal Aid Society’s 50-year-old client is married with two children, and all of her family still reside in Hong Kong. Our client was trafficked to the United States in August 2017 by a couple to work as a live-in domestic worker for their two children, one of whom was an infant. When she arrived in New York, our client was forced to work from about 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., seven days per week, with only a few hours break on Sunday. She also had to take care of the baby during the night, so she rarely had uninterrupted sleep. In addition to caring for the children, she was expected to perform domestic duties, including housecleaning. The couple controlled our client by forbidding her to speak to anyone, limiting her food intake, and telling her that she would end up homeless without them. Our client was paid $1,250 per month. In December 2017, our client escaped from the couples’ home and found help from RESTORE NYC, an organization that works with immigrant women who have been trafficked.
Pro bono counsel is needed to file and litigate wage, overtime and spread of hours claims under New York Labor Law on behalf of this client in addition to claims under the Trafficking Victim Protection Act and other common law claims. The volunteer, working with an experienced Legal Aid Employment Law attorney will draft and file a complaint in the Southern District of New York. The case will involve client interviewing, complaint drafting, settlement negotiations, court appearances and discovery, including drafting demands and taking and defending depositions.
Seeking Pro Bono Attorney to File Federal Court Discrimination Claim on Behalf of Older Widow
This client is a 74-year old widow who moved back to New York City after her husband passed away and immediately sought work. She secured a job as a customer service representative via a placement agency, with a company that operates a call center. Our client has a hearing impairment and uses hearing aids in both ears. Upon beginning her training for the customer service job, our client told the trainers and supervisor that she had a disability and explained that due to her hearing impairment, she wore hearing aids in both ears. The trainers and supervisor assured our client that her hearing would not pose a problem and that, if it did, she could be reasonably accommodated.
As part of her orientation, our client observed another customer service representative while she made and took calls on “the floor,” where customer service representatives worked. The floor was crowded and noisy and our client found it difficult to hear the call through her left ear because of the background noise. She approached the trainer to advise her of the challenge the crowded room posed; the trainer informed someone in human resources and the supervisor, each of whom subsequently assured our client that she could be accommodated if her disability so required. Just a few days later, our client observed another representative making service calls and experience the same hearing problem and once again she approached her supervisors for assistance. Although they assured our client once again that could be accommodated, no one at the company took steps to discuss possible options with her. On or about August 21, 2019, our client tried to address the problems she was having hearing through her left ear while on the floor. She informed her supervisor that she had made an appointment with her audiologist and intended to bring her headset with her so her audiologist could see the equipment she was using and adjust the hearing aid accordingly. The supervisor yelled at our client and accused her of failing to notify anyone of her hearing impairment. Our client challenged her supervisor’s assertion, noting that she had informed the company and the supervisor in particular, of her hearing issues both verbally and by disclosing her disability in the paperwork she filled out at the outset of her employment.
The following day, after Ms. Peters again had difficulty hearing while on the floor, the supervisor approached our client and told her that she wanted to assign her to a different job that would require less time on the phone and on the floor. Our client expressed interest in the job but despite promising to follow up, the supervisor never did. Instead, our client was sent out onto the floor the next day and again had difficulty hearing. Once again, she advised her supervisors of the challenges she was facing. Hours later, she was called into the human resources office and put on the phone with the supervisor who told her, in sum and substance, “if you cannot hear then you can’t do the job that you were hired for and cannot work here.” The supervisor then indicated that she was terminating our client’s employment with the company, effective immediately. Our client protested and asked for a reasonable accommodation, but the supervisor rebuffed her request. Instead, the supervisor stated that our client could not be accommodated, argued that the company was not legally required to do so, and reiterated, falsely, that she had never been made aware that our client had a hearing impairment. Our client was distraught and asked the supervisor to reconsider, indicating that she needed the job. The supervisor refused and instructed her assistant to escort our client out of the building.
Pro bono counsel is needed to draft and file a complaint in the Eastern District of New York alleging that this client was terminated because of her disability and that the employer failed to reasonably accommodate her, as required by law. The volunteer, working with an experienced Legal Aid Employment Law attorney, will engage in client interviewing, complaint drafting, settlement negotiations, court appearances and discovery, including drafting demands and taking and defending depositions.
Two Female Restaurant Workers Seek Pro Bono Counsel to Represent them in Federal Court Discrimination, Harassment and Wage Theft Litigation
The Legal Aid Society represents two restaurant workers who experienced discrimination, harassment and wage theft while working at a restaurant in Queens. The Defendants are repeat offenders and have been the subject of multiple claims of discrimination and wage theft over the years. (Read more here)
Both women have wage and hour claims. The restaurant paid workers by their shifts, not the hours they worked; our clients regularly worked multiple shifts per day and were never paid overtime or spread of hours. The restaurant denies underpaying both women but there are no records demonstrating that they were paid them appropriately. Both women also have sexual harassment claims. Throughout their employment, the manager/co-owner made sexually explicit jokes, grabbed one of our client’s hands and pulled them towards his crotch, bragged about the size of his penis, and regularly commented on both women’s bodies.
Additionally, one of our clients was also discriminated against because of her national origin and immigration status. She was treated differently because she is Guatemalan and was, during the period of employment, undocumented. The manager/co-owner’s business partner as well as a supervisor, both of whom are Colombian, repeatedly made fun of how this client spoke English and threatened to call the authorities on her if she did not follow their directions properly.
The restaurant also discriminated against this client when she became pregnant and failed to accommodate her pregnancy-related needs. In or around late April 2019, this client, a mother of six, learned she was pregnant. She refrained from telling the manager/co-owner about her pregnancy because she was concerned about how he might respond, based upon her observations of his treatment of co-workers during their pregnancies. He had ridiculed those employees, reduced their hours, and commented that they should not be working given their pregnancies. The manager/co-owner discovered our client’s pregnancy in or around July 2019. He informed her that he did not like having pregnant people working for him, he believed working while pregnant to be dangerous. He told her she should stay home and stop working, and that she was dispensable. The business partner similarly harassed this client, frequently calling her fat, criticizing her for eating too much, and asking her why she kept having kids. At one point, he told our client’s fiancé that he should take her home and stop her from working.
When our client continued to work, despite these comments, the manager/owner stepped up the pressure on her. He assigned our client to increasingly physical tasks and required that she work busy shifts alone without any support from her coworkers. He also demoted her from being a manger to being a cashier and told her that her pregnancy made her incapable of filling a leadership role. The supervisor, under the direction of the manager/owner, continually refused to grant our client’s requested work schedule, which would have enabled her to attend doctor’s appointments. Additionally, the manager/owner instructed other employees not to take over our client’s shifts when she asked her co-workers to switch shifts with her. As a result, our client was frequently unable to attend doctor’s appointments necessary for both her well-being and that of her baby. Finally, the manager/owner cut our client’s work hours significantly from over fifty-five hours a week, to as low as twenty hours a week. After giving birth to her child, our client requested to return to work. The restaurant chef informed our client that the manager/owner was unwilling to welcome her back because he had received notification that another worker had filed a complaint with the Division on Human Rights and expected that he would soon receive one indicating that our client had also filed one. Finally, she was also denied work upon her return from maternity leave because she was “fat” and “old” and was not a “beautiful Venezuelan.” She has been extremely traumatized by the discrimination and has suffered serious depression, which has greatly impacted her ability to care for her six children during the pandemic. The harassment and belittling behavior she was subjected because of her gender, pregnancy, and immigration status, caused her to experience physical manifestations of her stress, so much so that she developed high blood pressure and gave birth to her daughter prematurely.
In addition to wage, hour and sexual harassment claims, our second client has claims of discrimination based on her disability and alleges that Defendants failed to accommodate her disabilities. She suffers from arthritis – a disability that occasionally proves debilitating and requires medical care. On or about August 3, 2019, within one month of being hired at the restaurant, this client informed her supervisor that she had arthritis that occasionally required medical attention. On several occasions she asked for the day off so she could go to the doctor. Each time, she indicated to the supervisor that she was in pain and demonstrated her need for care by showing the supervisor the bandages that were wrapped around her legs to alleviate the pain she was experiencing. The supervisor denied our client’s request and refused to allow her to leave. She also refused to accommodate our client’s request that she not be required to lift heavy items. Despite our client’ multiple requests for accommodation, and the restaurant’s awareness of the fact that our client’s requests were motivated by and directly related to her disability, the restaurant repeatedly denied her requests. Defendants contest the allegations and reject the facts underlying the claims. They argue that our client did not have a disability and never asked for an accommodation. They also maintain that our client herself asked for a reduction in her hours, that she was a bad employee who was often late, and that they granted accommodations where possible.
Pro bono counsel is needed to file and litigate discrimination, wage, overtime claims in federal court on behalf of these workers. The State Division on Human Rights issued a probable cause finding in both cases and referred the cases to an administrative judge for trial, which is currently scheduled for the end of May. Legal Aid is seeking to file the case in the Eastern District of New York instead so that our clients can bring wage and hour claims in addition to discrimination claims. The volunteer, working with an experienced Legal Aid Employment Law attorney will draft and file a complaint in the Southern District of New York. The case will involve client interviewing, complaint drafting, settlement negotiations, court appearances and discovery, including drafting demands and taking and defending depositions.
Litigation Assistance Needed in New York State Supreme Court on Behalf of Janitor Fired in Retaliation for Filing Unpaid Wages Claim
After over 20 years of working as a janitor for prominent University in New York, our client was eligible to take a four week paid vacation, and he did. However, his supervisor believed that our client was only entitled to 3 weeks of vacation instead of the 4 and therefore, deducted one week of wages at the end of the calendar year which left our client with a paycheck of net $0 in the last week of the year. This caused tremendous hardship on our client who lives paycheck by paycheck to pay for rent, groceries, etc. Our client complained to his supervisors but they would not listen so he filed an unpaid wages claim at the New York State Department of Labor (DOL). Immediately, the DOL ordered the employer to pay for the one week of wages that was unlawfully deducted. As soon as the DOL provided notice to the employer that they were required to pay, our client immediately experienced retaliation, which included his job duties dramatically changing. The president of the company also wanted our client to return the money to the company. New responsibilities were added to his job description which he could not realistically complete during his work hours. He also received threatening statements from his supervisor.
Our client was ultimately fired for performance issues, which we believe is pretextual. We contend that he was actually fired for refusing to pay back the money the DOL ordered his employer to pay to him.
We had originally filed our client’s retaliation case at the DOL in 2015. We cooperated with their investigation every step of the way. They issued a determination in January 2020 favorable to our client. However, they made a mistake in their calculations of lost wages. Our attorney has been trying to get the DOL to correct the damages calculations, but they are taking their time and it doesn’t seem like they will take the next step of issuing an Order to Comply anytime soon. This may be because our client’s employer has threatened to sue them for various reasons including changing their initial determination amount.
We believe our client will be best served if we file a retaliation claim directly against the employer, and think that the DOL’s findings of fact would be helpful in this case. We are seeking pro bono assistance to file a complaint in New York State Supreme Court in order to resolve this matter and help our client receive monetary damages.
Woman Harassed at Work, Subjected to Discrimination and Ultimately Fired in Retaliation Seeks Pro Bono Assistance
For three years, our client, who is a woman of color, worked as a Personal Care Attendant at a group home for developmentally disabled females who are religious Jews. The other employees who routinely received performance reviews and raises were also of the Jewish faith while our client did not. Our client also observed that the employer failed to hire people of color for openings including several that she recommended. Throughout her employment she was continually harassed by another employee who would intentionally arrive to work early in order to cross paths with our client and harass her. The employee yelled, screamed, and made physical threats toward out client. Our client brought this to the attention of the employer, but the situation was not remedied. She filed a formal complaint after an anti-discrimination training, which was not resolved. Ultimately, she was fired without any notice or explanation.
We are seeking pro bono assistance to file this case in the Eastern District of New York. It is currently filed at the New York City Commission on Human Rights. We anticipate the pro bono work will involve interviewing, complaint drafting, settlement negotiations, court appearances and discovery, including drafting demands and defending or taking depositions.
Experienced Attorney Needed to Assist Asylee to File Federal Pardon Request and Assess Potential Challenge of U-Visa Denial
The Legal Aid Society represents a 45 year-old Liberian woman who entered the United States in 2000 as a derivative asylee, after having fled the Liberian civil war and witnessed the murder of her infant child. She is the wife of United States citizen who is 63 years old and suffers from prostate cancer. She is also the mother of two United States citizen children, ages 13 and 19 years old, the older of whom recently enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. Given COVID-19 and her husband’s inability to work due to his prostate cancer and severe COVID-19 morbidity factors, our client is the financial breadwinner for her family. Throughout this pandemic, her family has wholly relied on her to provide constant care and support.
We are seeking pro bono assistance with two matters on behalf of this client: 1) a federal pardon request for our client’s single conviction in 2004 for conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute heroin and 2) legal assessment of the viability of federal court litigation to challenge U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) discretionary denial of her application for a waiver of admissibility related to her petition for U nonimmigrant status.
Our client’s single conviction in 2004 before the Southern District of New York stemmed from a misguided friendship she developed with other West Africans living in New York City. She believed she was only helping these individuals by carrying items to others in West Africa; unfortunately, she was an unknowing mule for their drugs. Our client is deeply remorseful and ashamed of her lack of judgment in trusting others, but fully cooperated with the U.S. Attorney’s Office against her co-defendants who duped her, and has since lived a remarkably positive and productive life. In determining not to grant BS a waiver of inadmissibility (so that she could be granted U nonimmigrant status), USCIS failed to exercise discretion in accordance with applicable law and policy. Specifically, Legal Aid believes that USCIS: (1) failed to consider the record as a whole and to meaningfully address the evidence that it had specifically identified as potentially relevant to demonstrating her eligibility for a waiver of inadmissibility under INA § 212(d)(14); (2) misapplied the factors governing the exercise of discretion for granting waivers under INA § 212(d)(3); and (3) failed to comply with USCIS policy guidelines instructing that (i) all discretionary waivers are to be determined by considering all the factors cumulatively and weighing the positive factors against the negative factors; and (ii) all denials based on discretion should explain how the negative factors outweigh the positive ones. Additionally, the failure to provide an individualized determination with these denials deprived BS of her due process right to a full and fair opportunity to be heard.
Given our client’s limited role in her criminal case and her unequivocal rehabilitation, we hope that the Biden administration would be willing to consider a pardon request. Additionally, we would like assistance in assessing the viability of federal litigation to challenge USCIS’ denial of a waiver of inadmissibility for our client and her petition for U nonimmigrant status. We have done some preliminary research regarding potential claims under the Administrative Procedures Act but would greatly appreciate additional insight into the viability of federal court action against USCIS. Although Legal Aid’s Immigration Law Unit attorneys are available to consult on the U-Visa research, the Society will not be co-counsel on the pardon so the firm would sign a letter of engagement directly with the client and serve as independent counsel.
Assistance for Organzations
Pro Bono Counsel Needed to Advise and Assist Private NYC High School Black Alumni Group
Legal Aid represents a Black Alumni group (operating as an unassociated association) that is made up of graduates of a private all-girls school in Manhattan that prepares a diverse community of girls and young women for the lifelong transformation of self and the world with purpose, passion and perspective. The Black Alumni have created a community responding to the schools Anti-Racism task force and commitment to diversity, inclusion & equity. Student, alumni and parents have created a social media page that address concerns and provides testimonies of the student (some parent) experiences of racism. The group accepts statements from the school’s alumni about racism and before posting anything on the social media page, the group edits and screens the posts to remove identifying details.
The Group is seeking pro bono assistance for the following issues:
- Legal advice re how to protect the group if individual testimony posted on the social media page includes someone’s name. The group wants to be able to remove names – the group will post a disclosure to readers that testimonials may be edited to remove identifying information.
- Legal advice re the possibility of creating a NPO to engage discourse around race, activism and unity.
- The group would like to provide stipends for individuals providing conversations around activism through Zoom seminars and in order to do so, the members would like to create a GO-FUND-ME page to pay for administrative costs and stipends. The group is seeking pro bono counsel to assist them in negotiations with the private school in the hopes of persuading the school to reallocate some of the school’s annual fund income to this group for projects.
Real Estate Attorney Needed to Create Guide for Leasing Commercial Spaces
The Legal Aid Society’s Community Development Project is seeking assistance from a real estate attorney (or attorneys) experienced with commercial spaces. In order to better assist our clients in the future, we are hoping the attorney(s) can create a checklist or guide for business owners seeking to rent a commercial space. This guide should apply mostly to retain space, but can include information about office space as well.
The guide should include the following:
- What a commercial tenant should know prior to negotiating a commercial lease.
- What pre-planning and due diligence should a business owner engage in prior to seeing a retail commercial space.
- What should a commercial tenant look for when inspecting the commercial space.
- List of questions to ask when visiting the commercial space.
- List of questions to prepare prior to negotiating with landlord.
- When to bring in contractors, architects, etc.
- Any government regulations that business owners should be aware of prior to negotiating and signing a commercial lease.
- Negotiating tips.
Bronx Business Owner Seeks Advice from Experienced Insurance Attorney
Our client owns a parking lot in a low-income community in the Bronx. This past summer, a car parked in the parking lot caught fire. The fire spread, impacting 22 other cars in the lot at the time, as well as causing damage to a building and the property of other tenants. Our client had business liability insurance and filed a claim for the damage that occurred during the fire. In January, our client received a denial from the insurance company, stating that there is no coverage under their policy for the automobiles that were in the parking lot at the time of the fire, and stating that she might be liable for the damage.
We are seeking pro bono assistance from an attorney experienced in insurance matters to review the letter from the insurance company and provide advice to the business owner about her legal options. The pro bono attorney is not expected to provide full representation.
Trusts & Estates
Medically Vulnerable Client at Risk of Eviction Seeks Assistance in Surrogate’s Court
The Legal Aid Society represents 38 year old man who has lived in the same apartment for his entire life. His mother owned shares of stock in the corporate cooperative that owns the building he lives in, which under the corporate by-laws gave her the right to sign a proprietary lease agreement and live in this apartment. His mother passed away around a decade ago, but no one challenged his right to “inherit” his mother’s shares and become a party to a proprietary lease until relatively recently.
Around a year ago, the cooperative brought an eviction proceeding against him alleging that he was not the shareholder and that they were electing to terminate his tenancy. He went to Surrogate’s Court to try to obtain an order saying that he was entitled to the shares. Our understanding is that the cooperative board is challenging what he did in Surrogate’s Court on the grounds that the type of proceeding he initiated has a jurisdictional limit of $75,000. They believe the shares to be worth more than that. If he has the shares, then the housing court judge has signaled that he will likely also be able to keep the apartment.
Our client’s sole source of income is from SSD. He has several severe physical disabilities. He has dialysis treatment twice a week for his kidneys. He also has high blood pressure. He suffers from a heart condition and had what he described as “minor” heart surgery around June or July. He also reports that he had the novel coronavirus over the summer. His brother, who lives with him in this apartment and is also vulnerable to eviction at the moment, has asthma and diabetes.
The related eviction proceeding we are representing the client in could make this somewhat time sensitive. There is a current pending motion and cross motion to amend the housing court petition and amend his answer, but the case is likely to proceed to trial very soon, possibly within the next month or two. It would greatly help our position at trial if something could happen before then. We are also trying to get the case dismissed on some other theory, which could get him a lot of time to figure out the Surrogate’s Court proceeding.
We are seeking pro bono assistance to represent our client in the Surrogate’s Court proceeding he filed pro se, or to file a separate Surrogate’s Court proceeding if necessary. Interested volunteer attorneys will need to sign an engagement letter directly with the client. Legal Aid will not be co-counsel on the matter, but an attorney from Legal Aid’s Housing Unit will be available to provide guidance and support.
Pro Bono Assistance Needed to File FOIL Request to NYPD Re Interactions with LGBTQ+ People
The Legal Aid Society’s LGBTQ+ Law and Policy Initiative is interested in pursuing a substantial FOIL request to the NYPD regarding their interactions with LGBTQ+ people. In 2012, the NYPD Patrol Guide was modified to provide guidance on how to respectfully engage with LGBTQ+ people. These policies included use of preferred name/pronouns, search and housing protocols, and prohibition of bias-based policing. Subsequent years, however, demonstrated that the policies were not effectively implemented and, in 2017, the Department of Investigation (DOI) released a report that confirmed the NYPD’s disregard for these important policy changes. Advocates continue to hear of biased-based policing, particularly against Black LGBTQ+ communities, and discrimination and abuse against transgender and gender non-conforming people. A FOIL targeted at the materials that formed the basis for the DOI report, additional documents about subsequent implementation (or lack thereof), and data regarding complaints — along with other relevant materials — would be instrumental in informing the community through a report about the NYPD’s treatment of LGBTQ people and possibly identify new routes for advocacy or litigation. Legal Aid does not intend this to be an impact FOIL case; we don’t plan on asking for anything that will tee up an interesting exemption question. At the same time, given the scope of the FOIL, it may very well end up in litigation depending on how difficult the NYPD is in responding. Please note: Legal Aid is not targeting any individual police officers but we may also want to FOIL the Department of Investigation.