City Bar Justice Center to Operate Pro Se Legal Assistance Clinic for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

New York, New York, June 4, 2024 – The Board of Judges of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (“S.D.N.Y.” or “Southern District”) has selected the City Bar Justice Center – the pro bono-supported, nonprofit civil legal aid affiliate of the New York City Bar Association – to operate the Southern District’s Pro Se Legal Assistance Clinic (“S.D.N.Y. Pro Se Clinic”) beginning October 1, 2024.

The Southern District’s Bench and Bar Fund has provided support for the independently operated S.D.N.Y. Pro Se Clinic for nearly eight years, and for the past ten years the City Bar Justice Center has operated a similar project in the Brooklyn courthouse of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (“Eastern District”). The City Bar Justice Center’s Eastern District project was among the first of its kind in the nation. Over the years, a number of additional courts have, like the Eastern District and the Southern District, introduced services – typically overseen by independent legal aid nonprofits like the City Bar Justice Center – to provide pro se
litigants with quality, limited scope legal information and advice addressing general court processes and federal civil procedure, as well as multiple substantive areas of law; reviewing or assisting in drafting court correspondence and litigation documents; helping to strategize discovery and motion practice; preparing litigants for court appearances or conferences with adverse parties or their counsel; counseling and providing representation in connection with mediation and settlement; and preparing for trial.

“Programs like the S.D.N.Y. Pro Se Clinic meet unique, important needs for both the public and the courts,” said Kurt M. Denk, Executive Director of the City Bar Justice Center. “At a time when the Legal Services Corporation reports that most persons of low income in the United States receive insufficient help – or none at all – for 92% of their civil legal problems, many individuals seeking to vindicate or defend against federal civil rights, employment discrimination, Fair Labor Standards Act, Social Security benefits matters, and a range of other claims touching on core individual rights and the protection of livelihoods cannot afford counsel and conclude they have
no other choice but to represent themselves, notwithstanding the complexity and time and other resource demands of federal litigation,” Denk said. “At the same time, courts with demanding dockets have their own resource limitations, as well as ethical constraints, limiting their capacity to help pro se litigants while maintaining judicial efficiency.”

The S.D.N.Y. Pro Se Clinic will rely on a combination of City Bar Justice Center professional legal and support staff, law students, attorney volunteers drawn from the Justice Center’s expansive network of pro bono partnerships with leading New York law firms, corporate legal departments, and solo practitioners alike, and a dedicated volunteer recruitment and social work support team to serve pro se plaintiffs and defendants litigating matters in the Southern District. “We’ve proudly served the Eastern District for ten years through our pro se assistance project there, we’re honored now to have the opportunity to serve the Southern District as well, and we welcome members of the bar to support pro se litigants and the Court by volunteering their own services with us,” Denk said.

“We look forward to the City Bar Justice Center joining the Court in service to pro se litigants,” said Chief Judge Laura Taylor Swain of the Southern District, “and we believe projects like the S.D.N.Y. Pro Se Clinic have an important role to play, by helping otherwise unrepresented litigants understand their rights and defenses, and frame and present their arguments, in supporting the Court’s fulfillment of its obligation to administer justice fairly and impartially. We also join the City Bar Justice Center in encouraging attorneys who practice in the Southern District to provide robust pro bono support to S.D.N.Y. litigants who cannot afford counsel, including by volunteering with the S.D.N.Y. Pro Se Clinic.”

About the City Bar Justice Center
The City Bar Justice Center furthers access to justice by addressing unmet civil legal needs of New Yorkers struggling with poverty and other systemic socioeconomic barriers, providing pro bono legal services benefiting more than 25,000 New Yorkers each year. The Justice Center mobilizes law firms, corporate legal departments, and other legal institutions to provide pro bono legal services; educates the public on pertinent legal issues; fosters strategic community relationships; and impacts public policy.

About the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York
The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York encompasses the counties of New York, Bronx, Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Orange, Dutchess, and Sullivan and draws jurors from those counties. The Court hears cases in Manhattan, White Plains, and Poughkeepsie, New York. The District of New York held its first session on the first Tuesday of November 1789 at the Old Royal Exchange in lower Manhattan presided over by Judge James Duane, who was appointed by President Washington. It was the first court to sit under the new United States Constitution, preceding the United States Supreme Court by a few months. The District and its successor, the Southern District of New York, have sat continuously in New York, NY, since 1789.