During the 2010-2011 academic year, St. John’s Law launched the Economic Justice Clinic in partnership with the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), a nonprofit law office offering free, comprehensive legal services in civil law matters to low-income and homeless New Yorkers. Under the supervision of Christopher J. Portelli, a Senior Staff Attorney at NYLAG, students in the clinic participate in Project FAIR, Inc. (PFAIR). Founded in 2001, PFAIR is the only agency specializing in fair hearings and the only coalition bringing together the private bar, public interest law firms, and social service agencies to better serve fair hearing appellants.
David Falcon ’11 was one of the first student clinicians in the Economic Justice Clinic and, in that student advocate role, staffed PFAIR’s legal help desk and represented public benefits clients, often putting in much more than the required 13 office hours per week. Now, some two years later, David has become the first Economic Justice Clinic alumnus to be hired back as a full-time staff attorney at NYLAG, assigned to its new Veterans Project.
Law School Communications Director Lori Herz talked to David about his new position and his ongoing commitment to working in the public interest.
What are your primary responsibilities as an attorney with the Veterans Project?
Right now, I’m reaching out to people in the community who have contact with veterans who might need legal assistance to obtain benefits they’re entitled to. Our main goal, in addition to representing veterans as accredited benefits attorneys, is to establish community-based clinics and to implement referral channels. We want to provide legal services in areas such as Medicaid, food stamps, housing, and consumer protection. My hope is that we’ll be able to offer veterans a one-stop center for comprehensive legal services. We also want to set up a legal services clinic that travels within the five boroughs to meet with veterans on site at service centers and affinity group meeting places.
How did your time at St. John’s Law — and, in particular, with the Economic Justice Clinic — prepare you for your current position?
It was excellent preparation. As a student clinician in the Economic Justice Clinic, I was able to represent individuals independently and to develop the client interview skills that are vital to practicing law. I also gained confidence representing clients before an administrative law judge, an experience I wouldn’t have had if not for the clinic. The curriculum at St. John's Law gave me the insight and the room I needed to explore alternative legal career paths, while helping me build a solid foundation of knowledge and practical skills.
What does working in the public interest mean to you?
It’s very important to me. Throughout my academic and professional careers, I’ve chosen positions that have allowed me to serve the greater good. I don't think I could be satisfied doing anything else. I have a strong belief that communities and institutions exist to lift everyone to a better place. On a national and state level, I am a Staff Sergeant with the 109th AW Air National Guard Unit. I’ve been a member for 12 years and I’m a third generation service-member. The 109th's mission has given me the opportunity to assist in transporting the National Science Foundation as they conduct their climate change research. And I was able to help with the clean-up effort after Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy. On the local level, I’m a New York City native with a vested interest in helping my fellow service-members here.
Did you have a faculty mentor at St. John’s Law?
I participated in two clinics at St. John’s Law — first the Economic Justice Clinic and then the Immigrant Social Justice Clinic. My clinical professors, Christopher Portelli and Robert McCreanor respectively, gave me great guidance, helped me hone my practice skills, and enabled me to chart a genuine path to a productive career of service in the public interest.