Henry M. Greenberg. (Photo: David Handschuh/ALM) New York State Bar Association President Henry M. Greenberg. (Photo: David Handschuh/ALM)

The New York State Bar Association announced it is ready, in conjunction with the court system, to launch a pro bono network Monday, inviting lawyers all over the state to help respond to a surge in legal needs related to the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on the economy.

Organizational efforts must begin now, NYSBA President Henry M. “Hank” Greenberg said so that lawyers are ready and able to help when the economy begins to restart and the courts move back to full operations. The “pent-up demand” for legal services will be enormous, he said.

“I think you’re gonna see institutional legal service providers overwhelmed, legal aid societies overwhelmed, with requests for legal services to handle claims by creditors and potential eviction proceedings and you name it,” Greenberg said. “Never before has there been a greater need for pro bono legal services than there will be at that moment.”

Former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who is now of counsel at Latham & Watkins, is leading the effort to organize the new network. Lawyers will have a real opportunity to live up to the mission of serving others and providing justice for all, said Lippman, who has championed pro bono work and equal access to justice throughout his career.

“The pro bono work in this bar has been spectacular, but this is a problem we’ve never faced before,” he said.

Lippman said the network was inspired by the thousands of retired health care workers who answered New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call for a reserve corps of medical staff to support those dealing with the pandemic.

To start, network leaders will be asking bar associations, law schools, existing legal service providers and big law firms to get involved. Every lawyer will be welcome to join the effort, including those whose licenses aren’t active right now, Greenberg said.

Greenberg noted that the NYSBA has created a separate task force to help solo practitioners and small firms hit hard by the economic effects of the coronavirus, so requests for pro bono assistance will be focused elsewhere for now.

Details of the network’s structure, including how clients will be connected with counsel, are still being worked out, Greenberg said.

Lippman and Greenberg said New York is the first state to launch a pro bono network in response to the coronavirus. Lippman said he hopes it will serve as a template for the rest of the country as other states continue to deal with the pandemic.

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