New York and Iowa bars honored by ABA for pro bono work in pandemic
As COVID-19 spread across the country last year, creating a huge access to justice crisis, law societies have turned into problem-solving engines, stepping in to provide much-needed legal services free of charge. .
Engaging the state’s justice system, the New York State Bar Association launched and led a vast network of attorneys, firms, and law schools connecting volunteer lawyers to thousands of people in the need. The Iowa State Bar Association has created a pro bono hotline from the ground up to help people with legal issues.
For their volunteer work during the pandemic, the two state bar associations won the Harrison Tweed Award, an award jointly presented by the American Bar Association and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association in recognition of organizations that distinguish themselves by their creativity and their cut. cutting-edge projects meeting the civil legal needs of the poor.
The award will be presented Friday night at a partially virtual and in-person ceremony in Chicago at the association’s ABA annual meeting.
Theodore A. Howard, partner of Wiley Rein LLP who chairs the ABA legal aid committee, said the devastation caused by the pandemic across the country required a rapid response and increased synergy between the groups of lawyers. to address defense against eviction, foreclosures, denial of unemployment benefits and navigate the health system.
Volunteer lawyers have had to step out of their comfort zone and learn things they didn’t know how to do before. This required extensive training at all levels. Bar associations across the country have risen to the task, he said.
“All of them in their own way were remarkable and deserved to be recognized,” Howard said. “One thing that came out of this was a greater level of collaboration between local and state bars and legal service providers to train lawyers who wanted to be of assistance, but didn’t know how to do it.”
The choice of winners – New York, which has won the award twice before, and Iowa, a novice – was a deliberate demonstration of unity between cosmopolitan and rural America that lives through the shared reality of the pandemic. , did he declare.
“We thought it was appropriate to recognize the bar associations that are, to some extent, on opposite ends of the spectrum,” Howard said.
For one thing, Iowa has a relatively small bar and a less established culture of volunteer work. On the other hand, New York, the largest state bar association in America, is backed by powerful law firms with enormous resources and prominent lawyers, and has a long history of mobilizing against poverty. , Howard noted.
Here, Law360 Pulse takes a look at the two organizations that won the 2021 Harrison Tweed Award.
New York State Bar Association
Four weeks after the first case of coronavirus infection was identified in New York City on March 1, 2020, the New York State Bar Association announced it would create a digital network across the country. State of volunteer lawyers providing legal assistance to those affected by the pandemic and economic shutdown.
A website connecting people from across the state with lawyers and providing free training for lawyers in critical demand areas was set up within 45 days. The idea behind the platform was relatively simple, but its implementation required technological expertise and many hours of work, Hank Greenberg of Greenberg Traurig LLP, then chairman of the bar, told Law360 Pulse.
“Once we knew what the vision was, there was the technological challenge. We needed software gurus and coding experts,” Greenberg said.
Two leading legal software companies, Clio and Paladin, provided essential expertise free of charge. Paladin offered a digital pro bono legal aid platform that it was already using with legal aid companies. Clio made its encoders available. NYSBA’s homepage has been turned into a COVID-19 resource center.
To lead the pro bono network’s efforts, the Law Society launched its COVID-19 Recovery Task Force on April 15, 2020, in partnership with the New York State Unified Court System.
“We wanted to create a long-term infrastructure, to build the statewide network of volunteer lawyers,” Greenberg said. “We worked around the clock.
Led by former New York Court of Appeals Chief Justice Jonathan Lippman, the task force recruited hundreds of volunteer volunteers to help thousands of New Yorkers refuse and appeal for insurance. -unemployment at a time when millions of people in the state were applying. Over 2,500 applicants received legal aid for unemployment problems during the network’s first year of operation.
After Scott M. Karson succeeded Greenberg as President of the Bar on June 1, 2020, the task force established 12 task forces to address the most pressing legal needs arising from the pandemic: unemployment, landlord-tenant law. , health care, immigration, guardianship of children, life planning, surrogate court, domestic violence, family law, criminal justice, finance and small business.
As part of this effort, more than 2,500 lawyers have signed up to volunteer in these areas.
The working groups led several programs in partnership with legal aid providers to address gaps in access to justice in the areas of health care, immigration, guardianship of children, law family, criminal justice and small business. To be able to meet the legal demand in these areas, the state bar association has worked with state agencies to create dozens of free continuing legal education courses and training modules. , hosted via its online platform.
“Our Bar Association is extremely proud to receive this award for the services we have provided over the past year and a half,” said T. Andrew Brown, the current president of the association. “I have heard countless thanks and words of appreciation from so many people, not only those who are able to present awards, but those who have been served. That’s what makes it real.”
Iowa State Bar Association
The Iowa State Bar Association received the Tweed Award for establishing a free legal hotline to help Iowa residents meet legal needs related to the pandemic, regardless of income. Working with Iowa Legal Aid and the Polk County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project, the state bar association, which has approximately 7,000 members, launched the hotline March 31, 2020.
“We are absolutely delighted and honored to receive this award. It means a lot,” Anjela Shutts, president of the state bar, told Law360.
Shutts said lawyers in Iowa were essential in helping people during the height of the pandemic, which particularly affected the state’s meat packaging industry. People have turned to volunteer lawyers to help access essential resources, such as state and federal unemployment insurance, or to deal with accumulated debt, evictions and anxiety over child custody rights. children, she said.
“Healthcare workers, rightly so, received a lot of attention for their role during the pandemic. But lawyers were also very important,” she said.
Monday through Friday during working hours, Iowa residents can call and ask for help with eviction issues, denial of unemployment benefits, employment issues, or issues with claimants health care. Callers who meet Iowa Legal Aid’s eligibility criteria are put in touch with one of the organization’s lawyers. Those who do not are put in contact with the volunteer lawyers of the ISBA.
The state bar recruited around 200 lawyers to answer appeals. In Polk County, the most populous county in Iowa, the ISBA is working with the Polk County Bar to find volunteer recall attorneys.
In its first year of operation, the hotline responded to 5,416 calls, about half of which were ineligible for Iowa legal aid services and were referred to the ISBA. The state bar estimates that its volunteers spent at least 1,100 hours counseling callers.
“For this state and this bar association, this was a very important undertaking and one that seems to have been very successful in helping those in need,” Howard said. “We thought it deserved to be recognized.”
–Edited by Katherine Rautenberg.