Economic Justice Clinic
The Economic Justice Legal Clinic is a full-year partner clinic offered in collaboration with the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), a nonprofit law office offering free, comprehensive legal services in civil law matters to low-income New Yorkers who otherwise cannot afford or access legal services. Students in the Clinic participate in NYLAG’s 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.
For eight years, PFAIR has provided direct services through its Legal Help Desk, a portable office set up daily at the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) Administrative Hearing Center in downtown Brooklyn. OTDA conducts administrative fair hearings throughout New York City on issues relating to safety net benefits, including cash assistance, Food Stamps, Medicaid and housing subsidies.
Working alongside seasoned welfare advocates, Clinic students staff the Legal Help Desk, offering information and referrals to clients whose public assistance, Food Stamps, shelter allowance and Medicaid have been adversely affected. With attorney supervision, they also engage in negotiations with officials at OTDA, New York City’s Human Resources Administration, the NYC Housing Authority, the Department of Homeless Services and other agencies. In addition to advocating for clients outside of court, Clinic students represent clients at fair hearings − quasi-judicial mini-trials held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) at OTDA’s Brooklyn Center. Where appropriate, they prepare opening and closing statements, enter evidence, examine witnesses and write memoranda of law.
As part of the Clinic experience, students also hear from panels of clients, listen to guest lectures and meet with welfare advocates at New York City legal services provider organizations. Through the clinic’s affiliation with NYLAG and its participation in PFAIR, students also have the opportunity to participate in community outreach and education, impact litigation and public policy advocacy, including participation in advocacy coalitions like the Welfare Task Force and REAACT [the Ready Assistance to Advocates Coalition].
Christopher J. Portelli