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.
Protecting the Rights of Workers
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.
Pro Bono Assistance for Deli Worker Recovering Unpaid Wages
On the day he arrived in New York City from the Dominican Republic, our client began working at a Deli. He came to the United States in search of a better future, and relied on a loan from his brother-in-law to get here. The loan was not given directly to our client, but rather the brother-in-law paid directly for our clients travel costs. He informed our client that the loan could be repaid through discounts from his weekly earnings, essentially placing our client into a debt bondage.
During our client’s first year of employment, he worked 70 hours per week. He was told that he would be paid $4.29 per hour, however he received no compensation because his full earnings were deducted for repayment of his “loan.” During his second year of employment, our client worked 60 hours per week. All but $30 per week was taken in repayment of the “loan.” By January 2020, our client believed his loan to be paid in full and asked to be paid his full salary. Instead, he was told that his debt was not yet paid, an argument followed and he was fired.
The Legal Aid Society plans to draft and file a complaint in the Southern District of New York on behalf of our client, and we are seeking pro bono assistance. The case will involve client interviewing, complaint drafting, settlement negotiations, including participation in anticipated court-ordered mediation, court appearances and discovery, including drafting demands and defending depositions.
Young Man with Physical and Intellectual Disabilities Seeks Assistance with Asylum Application
Our client is an 18 year old from Mexico seeking asylum before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) Asylum Office. He is applying for asylum because his family fears that he will be targeted and harmed because of his disabilities, and that the Mexican government is unable and unwilling to fully protect him.
Our client entered the United States via the US/Mexico border when he was 1 year old. Since then, he has been living with his parents and siblings in New York City. He has severe physical and intellectual disabilities, and has been diagnosed with severe static encephalopathy, epilepsy, microcephaly, non-verbal intellectual disability, and spastic quadriparesis due to hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy; as a result of his medical conditions, he is non-verbal, wheelchair-bound, and is unable to provide for himself without constant support from his family, doctors, and a team of physical, occupational, and speech therapists.
Currently, our client has been granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), but this limited immigration benefit allows him no permanent status in the United States. While he is protected from deportation for the time being with DACA, DACA is at risk of being eliminated completely and is that happens, he will have no legal means to remain in the United States and would be at risk of being deported back to Mexico.
One legal issue that will also need to be addressed is our client’s failure to apply for asylum within one year of his 2002 entry to the United States. Generally, one is required to apply for asylum within one year of their last entry to the United States in order qualify for asylum protection, with some limited exceptions. Most relevant here is an exception that allows for minors to apply for asylum within 6 months of their turning 18 years old; here, our client attempted to file within 6 months of his 18th birthday. Unfortunately, due to administrative rejections regarding the completeness of the asylum application form, his asylum application was only formally accepted by USCIS more than 6 months from his 18th birthday.
The Legal Aid Society’s Immigration Law Unit is looking for pro bono assistance in representing our client at his asylum interview, which has not yet been scheduled. Legal Aid filed his asylum application in June 2020, and we anticipate that this interview may be scheduled in the next 6 months, as USCIS has slowly begun to resume its interview schedule for asylum applicants during the COVID-19 pandemic. As our client is intellectually limited and non-verbal, he is not able to testify on his own behalf. His parents are the main source of contact.
The pro bono team will need to assist in preparing a brief and evidence in support of our client’s claim for asylum and preparing any witnesses to testify at the Asylum Office. Legal Aid has already secured an expert who has prepared a report regarding our client’s prospects if he were forced to return to Mexico. Additionally, his treating physician has already submitted a letter in support of his on-going medical needs. Finally, given this unusual circumstance of the asylum applicant here being non-verbal, the pro bono team would need to research and propose appropriate accommodations to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, including under federal disabilities rights-related laws.
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.
Employee Seeks Pro Bono Assistance Purchasing Store Where She Works
Our client is a low-income Bronx resident seeking to purchase an existing health food store located in a low-income neighborhood in the Bronx. The health food store sells organic vitamins, supplements, dry goods, herbs natural remedies, snacks and tea. Once purchased by our client, it will be a woman minority owned business and this will be her first business. Our client completed her studies in food and the environment and is currently studying herbalism. She has been working part-time at the store for a number of months and since September 2020 has shadowed the owner to learn about inventory, vendors, product selection, restocking, business expenses, budgeting and customer service. It has provided her with the opportunity to become familiar with the business finances and running the business. She has agreed on a purchase price with the owner and the landlord has indicated a willingness to transfer the commercial lease. The current owner is seeking to retire as soon as possible. The timeline for the transfer of the business is April – May 2021.
The client needs assistance with the following:
- Forming a business entity (Counsel on creating a new entity vs. assuming existing business structure.)
- Review of existing commercial lease and possible negotiation with landlord.
- Review or draft of a Sales Agreement
- Counsel client on due diligence for purchase of an existing business
Trusts & Estates
Estate Assistance Needed to Help Client Resolve Foreclosure
When our client’s mother passed away she had an outstanding loan for her home. The home is now in foreclosure. The Legal Aid Society has been attempting to assist our client in assuming her mother’s loan or to get a loan of her own to pay off the existing loan to resolve the foreclosure case.
Our client’s mother left a will, but there were complications in the administration of it. We have been able to assist our client in resolving some issues, but are now seeking assistance with an outstanding issue. Our client’s father was not an owner of the home in question, but he was still married to our client’s mother at the time of his death. In addition to this, we encountered trouble finding a nephew of the mother in order to complete the estate administration process.
At this time we are seeking assistance with putting the property in our client’s name in order for her to move forward with either obtaining her own loan for the home or to assume her mother’s loan and resolve the foreclosure case.
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.