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Due to the misfortune of being a young attorney in advocacy law at a time when the economy does not encourage donations, Solange Nicole Grey was on the verge of losing the job she loves: helping children through the thickets of New York City’s foster care system. Lucky for Grey, her $50,000 salary at Lawyers for Children will be guaranteed for the next year under a unique gift from Loeb & Loeb. The 200-lawyer national firm headquartered in Los Angeles has saved a job at the nonprofit children’s advocacy group, which has 14 staff attorneys. “It’s really a new way of thinking about how to support legal services,” said Karen J. Freedman, executive director of Lawyers for Children. “Loeb has taken a ground-breaking role by saying they’re going to support staff that’s already in place, to take experienced attorneys and fund them.” Freedman said that while more orthodox support such as externships and fellowships are crucial and appreciated, nobody can know the territory quite like Grey, who gives her age as “in my thirties because I like being mysterious.” A graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, Grey joined Lawyers for Children in 1998, the last time the organization had an opening for an attorney. Previously, she was an assistant district attorney in Los Angeles and Brooklyn, and a corporate counsel for Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. “Pro bono assistance has a very good but limited role,” said Freedman. “For small nonprofits like us, what Loeb has done in helping us retain Solange makes all the difference.” But many other nonprofit service corporations, legal groups included, are counting their dwindling nickels and calculating cutbacks. “As New York City’s nonprofits face funding cuts, they are being forced to consider layoffs and hiring freezes that would have been unthinkable options only a few years ago,” according to an article in the Summer 2003 newsletter published by the Lawyers Alliance of New York, which provides transactional services to nonprofit groups. As Grey herself explains, “For a lot of our funding [at Lawyers for Children], we relied on private donors. But then a lot of our donors gave to 9/11 victims, with fewer dollars left over for us. Now there’s the poor economy. We hope they’ll eventually renew.” Meanwhile, Seth D. Gelblum came to Grey’s rescue by convincing his firm to underwrite her salary for at least a year, and perhaps for another. “We’re talking about that internally,” he said. “We’ll address the question when the time comes.” A partner in Loeb’s entertainment law department, Gelblum has sat on the Lawyers for Children board for 10 years, affording him an opportunity to see how success in flusher times now relates to a budget shortfall. It is an irony of riches to rags that others say has occurred elsewhere, or what is about to. “This organization is a national model for the kind of representation we need for children in foster care proceedings. Each client — each child — has both a lawyer and a social worker,” said Gelblum. “This was the organization’s innovation, and it’s proven incredibly effective. “Now what’s happened is that as they’ve grown and gotten larger and larger contracts from the state, they’ve had to fill shortfall with private donations. And now everybody’s cutting back.” But to Grey’s mind, “cutting back” is a euphemism for ignoring the 80 to 100 children she represents at any given moment. “People don’t realize how traumatized children are when they’re removed from their homes,” said Grey, whose mother, a school administrator in Brooklyn, inspired her own interest in child advocacy. “I think people find it easier to sympathize with animals in that situation,” Grey said. “Children tend to be a lot more honest about their desires and needs, so it’s easier for me, as a lawyer, to present their wishes to the court. That’s the easy part of my job,” she said. “The difficult part is that judges often don’t think that children are fully capable of understanding their situations. I get asked the question constantly, ‘You’re going to listen to what a 4-year-old says?’ I say, ‘Yes, your honor, this child is living in the situation and I’m not.’ “ LEGAL AID SOCIETY Uptown from Grey’s Lafayette St. offices, staff attorneys for the Legal Aid Society’s Juvenile Rights Division also represent youngsters in foster care situations. Though a much larger organization than Lawyers for Children, the civil practice area of Legal Aid is likewise dependent on private donations to provide its range of services. With alarms about funding cutbacks, directors of the Legal Aid Society will likely be asked to dig deeper into their own pockets at the June 24 board meeting. Daniel L. Greenberg, president and attorney-in-chief of Legal Aid, said in a prepared statement: “In today’s sharply constrained philanthropic environment, we depend more than ever on old friends. Our revenue projections for the coming year presume a strong assist from the board, and we are confident they will be there for us.” Michael Rothenberg, executive director of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, echoed the budgetary shortfall concerns of the Lawyers Alliance. And he agreed with Greenberg on the matter of individual generosity of an organization’s board members. “That’s the key — a strong board of directors,” said Rothenberg. “When the going gets tough, they’ll help.” In the absence of angels such as Loeb’s Gelblum and “old friends” on boards of directors, the Lawyers Alliance suggests that nonprofits facing dire financial outlooks think about mergers or strategic partnerships. For several years, the alliance has assisted nonprofits with the legal nuts and bolts of merging and partnering. For the most part, the alliance works with neighborhood social service outreach programs rather than legal services organizations. “More groups are considering these [merger and partner] options,” said Elizabeth Guggenheimer, legal director of the alliance. For reasons of client confidentiality, she would not identify such groups. “We get phone calls every week now. Still, some nonprofits are expanding. They’re not all shrinking.” The alliance itself realized a positive bump in its 2002-03 funding drive among law firms. According to Guggenheimer, the drive yielded approximately $384,000 this period, as opposed to about $373,000 for the previous period. The total annual budget for the Lawyers Alliance, she said, was $1.6 million. At bottom line, said Freedman, is what has become a clich� in times of tight funds: “We’ve all just got to think more creatively.”

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