December 2008/January 2009 Volunteer Feature: The City Bar Justice Center Honors Dechert LLP for its Outstanding Support of Pro Bono
Over the past couple of years, more than 80 Dechert attorneys have assisted the City Bar Justice Center in its mission to provide increased access to justice. Teams of volunteer attorneys have tirelessly assisted homeless clients trying to access or challenge denials of public benefits, immigrant victims of domestic violence seeking freedom from their abusers and legal status in the U.S., formerly incarcerated individuals struggling with the hidden consequences of having a criminal record, debt-burdened New Yorkers filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and low-income microentrepreneurs who are in the initial stages of structuring a small business.
"We love working with the different projects at the City Bar Justice Center," says Suzanne Turner, Chair of Dechert's firm-wide pro bono practice. She explained that the firm's first work with the Justice Center involved setting up a clinic at a homeless shelter with Legal Clinic for the Homeless. "This was a great experience," says Suzie, "especially because it was one of the first major pro bono projects for the New York office." Dechert is now working at its second shelter, where volunteers staff monthly clinics and assist homeless clients. Legal Clinic for the Homeless Director, Lisa Pearlstein, calls Dechert's help with the Project "invaluable." "Dechert lawyers have ensured that scores of homeless families have received all the public benefits they are entitled to receive," she says. Ross Hirsch, an associate in the New York office, coordinates the firm's work with the Project. "Over the last four years the Legal Clinic for the Homeless has provided many Dechert attorneys with a tremendous opportunity to help struggling families navigate the daunting bureaucracy of public assistance and, ultimately, find some stability in their lives," he says. "We are very grateful for the wonderful support provided to us and the clients by the team at the City Bar Justice Center."
Dechert also maintains an ongoing relationship with the Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project (NELP). The firm staffs a regular legal clinic at SoBRO, the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, which was founded to reverse the flight of businesses and jobs from the South Bronx and works to rebuild the community. "It was amazing working with Akira to establish the SoBRO clinic," says Suzie. "She really listened to what we wanted and helped us to create a clinical program that's great for transactional attorneys and really fits our skill set, location, and time constraints so that it feels like our own." Akira Arroyo, Director of NELP, underscores the importance of Dechert's work with the Project. "The Dechert attorneys who volunteer for our legal clinics give microentreprenuers a unique opportunity to get personalized answers to a wide variety of legal questions," she says. "Whether the clients have preliminary legal concerns as they are just getting started, or encounter legal issues as they develop an existing business, the Dechert volunteers help NELP clients to avoid the pitfalls that plague many small business owners without legal advice."
The firm also has over a dozen attorneys assisting immigrant victims of domestic violence through the City Bar Justice Center's Immigrant Women and Children Project. Suzanne Tomatore, Director of the Project, explained that quite apart from assisting numerous clients with VAWA petitions and U-Visas, the firm has helped out in many other ways, such as editing and printing a New York Anti-Trafficking Network T Visa Manuel and doing research on right to counsel. Dechert attorneys have also donated their time to working with the Consumer Bankruptcy and Reentry Law Projects.
Carol Bockner, Director of Pro Bono Initiatives at the City Bar Justice Center, raves about Dechert's work. "We're so appreciative of Dechert's enthusiastic participation in many of our projects," says Carol. "It's wonderful to work with a firm so dedicated to pro bono and we're grateful to have them as a partner in the provision of access to justice to poor and vulnerable New Yorkers." It is an honor to be able to recognize Dechert for their outstanding support of pro bono and the City Bar Justice Center's programs.