May 2010 Volunteer Feature: Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP
New York Lawyers for the Public Interest honors Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP for serving as pro bono co-counsel, along with Disability Advocates, Inc., Urban Justice Center, MFY Legal Services, Inc., Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, on a successful victory suit on behalf of people with mental illnesses housed in private adult homes. After more than six years of litigation, culminating in 18 days of trial testimony and argument, the plaintiffs in Disability Advocates, Inc. v. David A. Paterson, et. al. prevailed in their challenge to New York State's refusal to provide adult home residents with community based supportive housing. In September 2009, federal district court Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis ordered the State to develop a remedial plan to move these individuals to community settings.
In one of the most important cases since the Supreme Court's decision in Olmstead, people with mental illness have won a crucial victory enabling them to live and participate in their communities rather than in large institutions. Here is a brief Q & A with two of the volunteers, Sandra Shledon and Anne Raish, from the outstanding Paul, Weiss pro bono team:
What was it about this particular pro bono case that caught your interest?
This case presented an opportunity to become involved in an important civil rights issue-ensuring full integration and equal opportunity for people with mental illness. Stigmatization and segregation of people with serious mental illness persist in our society. Our constituents in this case have been deprived of the opportunity to realize their full potential because they have been relegated to custodial institutions for much of their lives. It was fighting to restore their independence and dignity that made this case so compelling.
How has your experience on this pro bono matter differed from your private practice work?
The work on pro bono cases is often more hands-on than private practice work. At more junior levels, the attorneys on our team had the opportunity to take an active role in court, make strategic decisions and consult with the client.
This case was a huge victory on behalf of individuals with mental illness in large part due to the significant efforts of you and your firm. What did you find most rewarding?
It was a truly rewarding experience to get to know some of our constituents who are not only consumers of mental health services, but also mental health advocates devoting a lot of time to lobbying for change and publicizing the plight of their friends and neighbors. To see them rise above their individual challenges to help others has been inspirational.
What advice would you give to lawyers who have never done pro bono work, but are looking to get involved?
Pro bono work is some of the most rewarding work you will ever do. You can have a positive impact on the lives of people who are otherwise unable to afford the legal services they need. You won't regret a minute of it.
A Special Thank You to Attorneys from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP: