Milbank Fellow Ateesh Chanda Discusses his Experience with Legal Aid’s Juvenile Rights Practice

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

  • The Legal Aid Society

Fifth year associate Ateesh Chanda, from Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP, has had extensive experience representing a range of financial institutions as a member of the firm’s litigation and arbitration group. But when offered the opportunity to work with a legal services provider through the firm’s unique Fellowship program, Ateesh chose to be a part of Milbank’s long tradition of public service with The Legal Aid Society.

Milbank Fellow Ateesh Chanda

Ateesh talks about the program and his experiences with the clients and staff of our Juvenile Rights Practice (JRP).

PBB- Can you describe the Milbank Fellowship program?

AC- The Milbank Fellowship program is a wonderful opportunity for first- and fourth-year associates to spend three months working exclusively with a non-profit legal services organization. Each associate has considerable latitude in seeking out opportunities that he or she is passionate about, whether drafting term sheets for social impact investments in Africa or representing indigent litigants here in New York City.

PBB- Why did you want to have Legal Aid host your fellowship?

AC- Doing my fellowship at Legal Aid offered me the opportunity to support the community I live in while working with and learning from exceptional lawyers.

PBB- What was the highlight of the fellowship?

AC- The highlight of my fellowship was certainly winning the release of a fourteen-year-old client from juvenile detention. Our client, Jonathan, has spent almost his entire life in foster care. After a finding that he had committed a single act of juvenile delinquency, the Family Court ordered that he be remanded pending disposition (the Family Court equivalent of sentencing). Although Jonathan had no history of juvenile delinquency, the Family Court considered him to be a flight risk because he had run away from foster care institutions, usually to see his biological mother. JRP Supervising Attorney Sandeep Kandhari, Judy Stern from the JRP Appeals Unit, and I filed an emergency motion with the Appellate Division to stay the detention order and argued the case before [Appellate Division] Justice Peter Tom. Justice Tom stayed the Family Court’s detention order and, in a rare bit of instant legal gratification, Jonathan was released from detention the same day.

PBB- What were your impressions of The Legal Aid Society staff?

AC- It was a privilege to work with such committed lawyers, social workers, paralegals, and administrative staff. I worked with both delinquency and child protective attorneys and was impressed by the passion they bring to each case. Despite facing a system that often seems slanted against juveniles, JRP delinquency attorneys fight incredibly hard for every client. Child protective attorneys go above and beyond to set up services and get help for their young clients in the face of difficult family situations. They alone give voice to their clients’ needs, which are often overlooked by the bureaucracies that are charged with caring for them.

PBB- Would you recommend a fellowship at LAS?

AC- I would strongly recommend working with Legal Aid, particularly the Juvenile Rights Practice. In addition to getting courtroom experience alongside talented trial lawyers, I gained a new perspective on the challenges that poor families face and the dysfunction amidst which so many young New Yorkers grow up.