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When Andrew Liebhafsky, a third-year associate at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, becomes the first lawyer in his class at the firm to argue an appeal before the Appellate Division, First Department later this year, he will owe the honor to his participation in a novel pro bono externship program the firm sponsors with the non-profit agency Legal Services for New York City, Brooklyn Branch. Liebhafsky, 30, left his practice in Weil Gotshal’s business and securities litigation department in February to work full-time in LSNY’s Brooklyn Heights offices. He said that over the course of his three-month stretch at the non-profit, he was able to get the sort of significant courtroom experience that is usually off-limits to young, big-firm associates: arguing two motions before Housing Court judges, examining a witness at trial and preparing the entire appellate brief for the case now pending at the First Department. “It was a fantastic experience,” Liebhafsky said of the externship. “It prepares associates and gives them more confidence in the courtroom, at trial and negotiating with clients. There’s no doubt it’s improved my confidence as a lawyer.” Weil Gotshal began the externship program last fall, recognizing it as a way to make a significant impact by focusing pro bono energy in a single place. Every three months, a new litigation associate begins a stint at LSNY, which provides civil legal services to indigent clients. (The firm’s transactional lawyers have a similar arrangement at Lawyers Alliance for New York.) “What this program allows you to do is immerse yourself in the work and focus on nothing but these people,” Liebhafsky said. Liebhafsky, a native New Yorker who spent two years as a paralegal in the Corruption Unit of the Southern District U.S. Attorney’s Office before attending law school at New York University, signed up for the LSNY externship after hearing the rave review of Celeste Murphy, the first Weil Gotshal associate to complete the program. He arrived at LSNY in February and promptly was put to work on a variety of matters, including the bankruptcy of a disabled Russian man who was apparently the victim of a credit card scam and the settlement of a contract dispute with a New York City hospital. Liebhafsky prepared the appellate brief on behalf of an elderly woman against whom eviction proceedings were commenced after an alleged fight with employees of her apartment building. As an appeal of an administrative decision of the New York City Housing Authority, the case was automatically referred to the First Department. Impressed with his work on the brief, LSNY lawyers have asked Liebhafsky to argue the case before the appellate panel in September. “He did the entire appeal. He got the record, he researched it and he wrote the brief,” said Steven M. Bernstein, the project director at LSNY. “It was all his work and it was a fine piece of writing.” Bernstein also praised Liebhafsky’s work in a seven-day trial on behalf of a mentally disabled client who sued for the right to succeed his deceased brother as a tenant under the Rent Stabilization laws. The client had a history of emotional outbursts, but Liebhafsky was able to complete the man’s direct testimony and rehabilitate him after cross-examination without incident. Bernstein recalled that Liebhafsky’s basic human kindness was as valuable as his legal acumen as he developed a rapport with the man and prepared him to testify. “It was a combination of the human side and the professional ability that he was able to carry that off,” Bernstein said. To Liebhafsky, the hands-on nature of the work at LSNY was the most attractive feature of the externship. He said the lawyers there took pains to prepare him thoroughly for all of his courtroom exposure, from delivering oral argument to examining witnesses. “These are all things that junior associates learn in seminars.” Liebhafsky said. “But this is the real thing.” CAR SERVICE TOO Fortunately for Liebhafsky, the Weil Gotshal externs do not entirely disassociate themselves from the firm. After he ruptured his Achilles tendon playing squash only a few days before his externship was to start, the firm offered to send a car to take him back and forth to work. And occasionally, other firm resources are brought to bear to make tasks like copying, research and word processing more efficient for the pro bono clients. “It makes things on a concrete level a lot easier,” Bernstein said. Liebhafsky said he enjoyed the enthusiastic working environment at LSNY, noting that Bernstein would often answer the phones when the office’s receptionist was at lunch. “He would tell them that the process is that they have to come in on Monday and that he can’t counsel everyone on the phone, but then he would proceed to counsel each one,” Liebhafsky said.

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