September 29, 2017
Dear Pro Bono Community,
First, let me introduce myself. My name is Myleah Misenhimer and I am the new Private Attorney Involvement Director with the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York. I am thrilled to be joining the LASNNY team, but sad to say Michele Sleight, who has headed PAI for the past few years, has decided to return to school and pursue a career in nursing. She has been an integral part in maintaining PAI, and has worked tirelessly to adopt new programs to better serve our clients’ changing needs. The Private Attorney Involvement program is somewhat amorphous by nature, and I only hope to be as adept as she in answering the current communal call and shaping the program accordingly.
It is my goal this year to bolster those programs already in place, as well as create new programs to address new, or in some cases, newly realized legal needs. Our pro se divorce clinics continue to fill to capacity, and although we have some wonderful volunteer attorneys helping out with this program, assistance with divorce is just one of those needs that I don’t foresee going away. That being said, we could always use additional volunteers for our clinics. The clinics, which take place in 6 different locations and cover 12 counties, are designed to help pro se litigants seeking an uncontested divorce in filling out and filing their paperwork. Our volunteers have assisted countless clients in leaving behind unhappy, and sometimes ugly situations so that they can move forward with their lives.
Our bankruptcy referral program also remains in high demand. For those suffering under the weight of asphyxiating debt, a Chapter 7 bankruptcy can be life changing. Finding volunteer attorneys willing to help in this area is not only desired, it is vital. So often these individuals are reaching out for a second chance to “start fresh” and “do things right.” It is my goal to find those attorneys out there willing to reach back. There is also a growing need for assistance in the following areas: the drafting of wills, powers of attorney, health care proxies, and, less frequently, trusts; veteran’s affairs; and name changes, particularly for transgender individuals.
The Attorney for the Day program at Albany City Court, where we pair individuals appearing for landlord/tenant actions with private attorneys, is in full swing. On the first and third Fridays of the month, volunteer attorneys are available to assist tenants who would otherwise be left to fend for themselves. The representation is limited in time and scope, but can and often does have a lasting impact. Additionally, together with the Albany County Bar Association, we are trying to reinvigorate the Albany County Family Court Help Center, where pro se litigants can seek assistance right at the Family Court from volunteer attorneys stationed there.
Our Closing the Gap program, which is a technology platform that connects rural pro se litigants in housing and consumer cases with urban pro bono volunteers, completed its pilot period in March. The Closing the Gap website allows pro bono attorneys to conduct virtual interviews with clients located in rural areas via web video chat and document sharing features. Closing the Gap utilizes Law Help Interactive, so that the answers given during the virtual interview are generated into a pleading that the pro se litigant can then print and file. If you are from the Capital District and are interested in volunteering for this program, please contact Melody Harkness at [email protected].
Lastly, October is fast approaching. In celebration of pro bono month, you may receive a letter from me inviting you to explore our various pro bono opportunities. In the meantime, if you are interested in volunteering for any of our programs, please feel free to contact me at [email protected]. I look forward to meeting those of you I have not yet had the pleasure to meet, and wish you all the very best.
Myleah Misenhimer, Esq.