Pro Bono Rank Firm
(Am Law 200 Rank)
Am Law
Pro Bono Score
Average Pro Bono
Hours Per Lawyer
% of Lawyers
With More Than 20 Hours
Stroock & Stroock (99)


In April 2007 a sixtyish woman returned from a trip to find that a fire had damaged her Upper West Side Manhattan apartment so badly that she would have to stay with friends for a while. Thirteen months passed, and the woman was still bouncing from living room to living room because her landlord wouldn’t let her back into the rent-controlled apartment where she’d lived for 35 years.

The Am Law Pro Bono 100When a neighbor told her that the repairs to her apartment had been completed several months earlier, she figured out what was going on: Her landlord was trying to squeeze her out. So she went to a housing clinic supervised by the nonprofit Urban Justice Center, where she met Derek Silverman, then a first-year associate at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan. He is one of five Stroock first-years who began the firm’s new pro bono project with the UJC clinic, which helps resolve issues that come up in New York City Housing Court in Manhattan.

“It’s one of those things that really shocks the conscience,” Silverman says. “This had been this woman’s apartment for 35 years.” Last May, Silverman began calling the landlord and sending him letters, informing him that Stroock had information that the apartment was ready to live in. The landlord ignored some messages and responded to others with what Silverman believes were excuses—he was waiting for the insurance company’s approval, he had to fire a contractor, a banister needed repainting.

Finally, Silverman called the landlord on a Friday in July and said Stroock would be filing a complaint at housing court the following Monday. “That voicemail got returned quickly,” Silverman says with a laugh. A few days later, Silverman watched the landlord hand his client the keys to her apartment.

This is exactly the sort of unglamorous, in-the-trenches work that Kevin Curnin, the Stroock partner who directs the firm’s Public Service Project, had in mind when he decided to partner with the Urban Justice Center and a separate group that does housing advocacy for residents in Chinatown. “It’s not just pure idealism,” Curnin says. “If you come with just pure idealism, you won’t make it out of housing court your first day.”

Indeed, other associates in the program say that they were surprised by the rough-and-tumble nature of housing court. Lawyers for landlords would schedule meet-up times only to blow the Stroock lawyers off, and things were so fast-paced, it was often hard to simply find your adversary. “You’ve almost got to tackle them in the hall,” Silverman says.

Lauren DiLeonardo, a first-year who volunteered for the program, agrees. “You go to law school for three years and learn how things are supposed to be done, and then you go to housing court and it’s just chaos,” she says. “But it’s a chance to do something great. These people really need our help.”

—Zach Lowe | July 1, 2009

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