January 19, 2015: Surplus Budget Funds Could Help The Poor Access Legal Services, New York State Bar Association President Lau-Kee Proposes

The New York State Bar Association is seeking $5 million in state funding for the creation of a legal services center in Albany to enhance the availability of legal services to low income individuals.

“With the state’s surplus, there is now an opportunity to make a one-time investment that could be very meaningful in terms of improving the access of people needing legal assistance to available services and enhancing the ability of lawyers to provide these services,” State Bar President Glenn Lau-Kee  of New York City (Kee & Lau-Kee) wrote in a letter to Governor Cuomo. 

“In far too many cases, people with no legal experience are forced into court without a lawyer, and face loss of their apartment or home, or loss of custody of a child, or denial of benefits to which they are entitled,” he said. The center would enhance the legal services available to low-income individuals, he said.

The Albany-based center could offer a unified intake system that could direct clients to an appropriate provider. Capital District legal services providers could also work with clients at the center or out of their current offices.

The center also could offer legal service attorneys (including pro bono attorneys) office space to meet with clients and for training, computers and a library of legal resources. It could be valuable for out-of-town attorneys for the indigent who have arguments in the Third Department and Court of Appeals. There also could be a courtroom where they could prepare their arguments in a moot setting.

Noting the benefits of enabling legal services providers in the Capital District to better serve their clients, Lau-Kee said: “This proposed center would serve a critically important function by allowing enhanced opportunities to bring together providers in the region to address access to justice in a more coordinated and efficient manner.”

The Association’s proposal is supported by the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, Empire Justice Center and the Legal Project, all of which are providers in the Capital District.   

Lillian Moy, executive director, Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York:
“The Legal Aid Society strongly supports the Association’s request for funding to create a much needed legal services center in Albany. We appreciate NYSBA’s commitment to making justice accessible to all low income New Yorkers.” 

Anne Erickson, president, Empire Justice Center
"A commitment of this kind would be a powerful investment in access to justice in the Capitol Region. It is clearly an appropriate use of these one-time funds that would reap dynamic benefits for years to come."

Lisa A. Frisch, executive director, The Legal Project:
“At The Legal Project, we work very closely with our legal services partners in the Capital Region, and this Center would provide a centralized location for our efforts, enhancing our ability to serve those in need in a more streamlined way. One of our main goals is to make it easier for those in need to get the assistance they are seeking and this Center is intended to make our collaborative efforts more integrated, efficient and accessible all who need our help.” 

The 74,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation.  It was founded in 1876.

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Contact: Lise Bang-Jensen
Director, Media Services and Public Affairs
Lbang-jensen@nysba.org
518-487-5530