Do More with Pro Bono

Stephen Harper is a rising 3L and executive editor of the Law Review. This summer he is working for Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP in New York, New York as a summer associate.

As I stated in my first post, I spent most of my summer working on traditional summer associate assignments, including performing due diligence, reviewing corporate documents, researching statutes and case law, and writing legal memoranda.  However, I also had the unique opportunity to work on a pro bono case during the summer.  The firm encourages summer associates to take advantage of the various pro bono opportunities available.  Specific opportunities include: representing disabled individuals in need of social security benefits; working on criminal appeals; participating in a “Name Change Project”; teaching street law; and providing legal assistance to public housing tenants.

Although I did not know much about New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) cases, I thought the opportunity to work on such a case might be interesting because of my interest in Property law.  I attended a NYCHA introductory seminar at the beginning of the summer, and shortly thereafter, my officemate and I were assigned a NYCHA case by The Legal Aid Society.  We were asked to represent a public housing tenant, who was facing eviction due to chronic rent delinquency.  If a tenant pays his or her rent late three times in a 12-month period, the tenant is considered chronic rent delinquent and termination of tenancy proceedings are commenced.   Unfortunately, our tenant fell behind on her rent as a result of unforeseen circumstances and termination proceedings were initiated.

My officemate and I were assigned to the case and scheduled introductory meetings with The Legal Aid Society and our client.  The supervising Legal Aid lawyer provided us with an overview of NYCHA procedures and offered some advice on how to approach the case.  We then met with our client, at which time we inquired about her situation and had her sign a release form so that we could review her file and develop a strategy.

We attended a conference with the housing authority on our client’s behalf and negotiated what we thought was a favorable settlement.  The Legal Aid Society and our client both agreed, but we were unable to sign the stipulation on the same day because our client still had an outstanding balance.  In the meantime, we adjourned the administrative hearing to a later date in order to give our client some time to eliminate her balance and sign the stipulation.  Our summer program ended without a final resolution, but our client advised us that she will pay off her balance before the scheduled hearing date.  If she follows through, she should be able to sign the stipulation and continue her tenancy.  A supervising associate at the firm will continue to monitor the case and assist the client until all issues are resolved.

This experience was very different from my other assignments because my officemate and I were in charge of the case.  Although we worked under the supervision of The Legal Aid Society and a more senior attorney at the firm, we were responsible for all aspects of the case.  We led the meetings with the client, developed strategy, and negotiated a settlement on our client’s behalf.  It was a great experience to be given so much responsibility as a summer associate.

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