VOLS Launches Unemployment Insurance Advocacy Project

Friday, December 11, 2009

  • Volunteers of Legal Service

In response to the dramatic consequences of the economic downturn, Volunteers of Legal Service recently launched the VOLS Unemployment Insurance Advocacy Project. The goal of the project is to provide pro bono legal service to low-income New Yorkers who have been denied unemployment insurance benefits after losing their jobs.

The VOLS Unemployment Insurance Advocacy Project recruits, trains, and mentors volunteer attorneys to represent individuals in administrative hearings before the New York State Department of Labor in both Manhattan and Brooklyn. Lawyers representing claimants will interview clients, review documents, develop case theory, conduct direct and cross-examinations, and make closing arguments before an administrative law judge. On average, preparation for a case involves between 10-12 hours, and from start to finish the average case lasts five weeks.

Since the project began in early November, it has received over 315 calls from individuals requesting legal representation. Project Director, Robyn Weinstein, screens each potential case for merit, and meritorious cases are distributed via e-mail to volunteer attorneys. Ms. Weinstein is a recent graduate from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and formerly served as the regional co-chair of the Unemployment Action Center.

In mid-November, volunteer attorney Jordan Hellman represented a claimant in the project’s first hearing and obtained a favorable decision on his client’s behalf. Mr. Hellman described his experience as a “rare hands-on learning opportunity.”

To date, forty-three volunteers from fourteen law firms are participating in the project. These firms include: Anderson Kill & Olick; Bryan Cave; Cleary Gottlieb; Davis Polk & Wardwell; Debevoise & Plimpton; Dechert; Dewey & LeBoeuf; Hughes Hubbard; Kelley Drye; Orrick; Skadden, Arps; Sullivan & Cromwell; White & Case; Willkie Farr & Gallagher.

The project is actively recruiting volunteers. To find out more information about the project or to volunteer, please contact Robyn Weinstein at rweinstein@volsprobono.org. Lawyers interested in taking a case must attend a VOLS unemployment insurance training.

At a time of widespread economic distress, this project provides an opportunity for lawyers to relieve some of the anguish and suffering being experienced by their fellow New Yorkers. Participating lawyers will assist individuals who find themselves jobless, some unable to meet basic living expenses like rent. At hearings following denial of benefits by the New York State Department of Labor, an unrepresented claimant will prevail only twenty eight percent of the time. When represented at a hearing, a claimant’s success rate more than doubles.