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Innovative Federal Pro Se Legal Project Cites Successes in First Year

by CBJC Staff February 29, 2016

The City Bar Justice Center has released a nine-month report on the Federal Pro Se Legal Assistance Project, a collaboration with the United States District Court for the Eastern District and the first office dedicated to providing advice, limited-scope legal assistance, and information to people proceeding pro se in a variety of federal civil cases in New York.

Since March 2015, the pilot project has operated out of an office in the Eastern District’s Brooklyn courthouse with access to the resources of the City Bar Justice Center, including supervision, malpractice insurance, computer equipment, a cloud-based case management system, support on client counseling and legal issues and a wide pro bono network.

Since launch, the Project has provided limited-scope legal assistance, advice or consultation in nearly 300 matters to low-income litigants and prospective litigants on a range of federal civil issues.

“The Eastern District of New York is proud to have created the first program in New York to provide a legal assistance office at the federal courthouse staffed with an experienced attorney,” said Chief Judge Carol B. Amon, United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

New York City Bar Association President Debra L. Raskin praised the court for increasing access to free legal advice for low-income litigants with federal cases. “Federal litigation is very rule-driven and complicated for non-lawyers,” she said. “This project is an important step to aid people in figuring out which court to file their case in and how to develop or defend their case.”

The Project’s director is Nancy Rosenbloom, an experienced civil rights litigator. Several large law firms have contributed volunteer attorneys to augment the office several mornings a week, and Fordham Law School’s Stein Center has a team of students working at the Project this Spring.

Cases at the Project have ranged from employment discrimination and other civil rights matters to small business disputes and mortgage foreclosure actions. The Project has provided brief services—including review of papers, research, drafting assistance, strategy discussion, and other advice and counsel—to 148 clients, and advice-only to 46. The Project has advised and referred 76 litigants to nonprofit legal services providers, the City Bar’s Legal Referral Service and/or pro bono counsel.

The Project receives referrals from judges, the Court Clerk’s office and word of mouth, and has received positive feedback from court personnel as well as clients. Regarding the ways in which the Project’s assistance was most helpful (with the option to check multiple boxes), 83% of client survey respondents emphasized receiving answers to their legal questions, and 83% also stated that the assistance relieved some of the stress and/or anxiety they felt about their legal issues. When asked “What was the most helpful thing the City Bar Justice Center did for you?” client responses included:

  • “They listen to your issues!”
  • “Assisting me with writing legal responses to defendant’s counsel. Thank you.”
  • “Empathizing with the sensitive issue at hand.”
  • “Very professional.”
  • “[I received] help writing a response letter.”
  • “It would be an injustice to say this or that was the most helpful thing City Bar Justice Center did for me. City Bar was helpful in many ways. I was helped with discovery, settlement, and ramifications of doing this as opposed to that. I guess the most helpful thing was just being available to get complex and often vexing questions answered.”
  • I cannot put into words how much I appreciate your help, and your time. You’re a true asset to the little people like me, trying to be heard in a foreign setting. I am so grateful to have met you. And grateful for your pro se project.

The report can be read here: http://bit.ly/24nhIyC


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