NCBA's Commitment to Providing Civil Legal Services
 
The economic problems of recent years have increased the number of people needing civil legal services without a corresponding increase in the ability to pay for these services. The number of mortgage foreclosure actions in New York State rose from 26,706 in 2006 to more than 44,000 in 2013. In a recent year, in counties outside of New York City, 59% of defendants in these actions were not represented by counsel, while in New York City that number was 78%, for a statewide average of 67%.

To meet the needs of those members of our society who require but are unable to pay for civil legal services, our profession and our Association have responded with a variety of pro bono efforts.

The American Bar Association, in its 2013 Report on the Pro Bono Work of America's Lawyers, found that greater than onethird of the attorneys surveyed provided more than 50 hours of legal services annually to persons of limited means or to organizations addressing the needs of persons of limited means, and that the average number of pro bono hours was 56.5 with a median of 30 hours. In another report, the American Bar Association found that U.S. lawyers provide pro bono legal services at a rate of almost three times the rate of volunteer work in the general population.
 
Our Association has responded to the unmet need for civil legal services by instituting a variety of programs, all of which fall under the Access to Justice component of the Association's charitable organization, the Nassau Bar Foundation, the other two components being the We Care Fund and the Lawyers Assistance Program. For the last several years Association First Vice President Martha Krisel has overseen these efforts as Chair of the Association's Access to Justice Committee, working with the Association's Pro Bono Director, Gale D. Berg.
 
The Association's Foreclosure Project serves Nassau County residents in two ways. First, the Association has, since March, 2009, held monthly clinics where an average of fifty to sixty homeowners facing foreclosure consult with an average of one dozen volunteer attorneys. Bankruptcy attorneys are also available at these clinics for consultation. Within two weeks of SuperStorm Sandy, the Association included its related problems in its consultation clinics, as it became apparent that there were many overlapping issues. Second, volunteer attorneys attend mandatory conferences in residential foreclosure actions in the Supreme Court to help indigent defendants understand the legal process, identify and accumulate documents to support their defenses, and identify their options. To date, volunteer attorneys have appeared at more than 1,500 such conferences.
 
The Volunteer Lawyers Project Attorney for the Day program, operated by Nassau-Suffolk Law Services, provides representation to indigent tenants facing eviction in the Nassau County District Court. The program is staffed with volunteer members of the Association Monday through Thursday of each week. In 2013, the project handled 789 cases. Of those cases, 273 evictions were prevented and 444 were delayed, giving tenants time to find alternate housing.
 
There are a variety of other programs and clinics where our members provide pro bono civil legal assistance through the Association. For example, the Association holds a Senior Citizen clinic every month, a Pro Bono FAIR (Free Assistance, Information and Referral) every year, and, in conjunction with Nassau-Suffolk Legal Services, a Bankruptcy Clinic six times a year.
 
Despite all of these efforts, our members cannot meet all of the civil legal needs of indigent members of our community, as the need is great while the ability of attorneys to provide pro bono services is necessarily limited. To fulfill this unmet need, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman has undertaken a number of initiatives and issued several regulations. Regrettably, however, he has chosen to do so without prior consultation with the New York State and local bar associations.
 
At its June, 2014 meeting the Association's Board of Directors passed a resolution, prepared by Past President A. Thomas Levin, where the Association: expressed its regret and disappointment about the Chief Judge's lack of consultation with the organized bar and the public about these regulations; reaffirmed its commitment and support for voluntary pro bono legal services; reiterated its opposition to both mandatory pro bono legal services and mandatory reporting of pro bono services and contributions; and urged the Chief Judge, the Appellate Divisions and the Office of Court Administration to rescind the mandatory reporting of pro bono services and contributions. And we are not alone, as the New York State Bar Association, the Suffolk County Bar Association, and bar associations throughout the State are working for the rescission of the mandatory reporting requirements.
 
I am hopeful that the Chief Judge will hear our collective voices on this issue.

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