When the U.S. Supreme Court in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, established the right to counsel for criminal defendants in 1963, it wasn’t surprising that lawyers were in demand like never before.
Now, New York City’s Right to Counsel Law is having a similar effect on civil attorneys, and New York Law School wants to play a major role preparing students to be housing attorneys and training managers to supervise them.
The school is about to announce that it’s launching a training program for supervisors at nonprofits that have contracted with the city to provide the lawyers. By concentrating on the managers, law school officials estimate that the program would have an impact on close to 1,000 attorneys over three years.
Dubbed the Housing Justice Leadership Institute, the curriculum is largely based on the work of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law and was developed by the school’s faculty and an advisory committee of experts.
Andrew Scherer, a New York Law School professor who has devoted his entire career to housing issues and is co-teaching the training program, is giddy with anticipation. (When I say giddy, I mean for a law school professor).
“What’s unique about this moment really in the 55 or so year history of modern legal services in the United States is we have never had a moment comparable to this in the civil arena,” said Scherer, who directs NYLS’ Right to Counsel Project.
The right to counsel law, the first of its kind in the country, guarantees representation to tenants facing eviction who earn up to 200 percent of the federal poverty. San Francisco and Newark have passed similar laws since.
Just a few years before the law was passed, low-income New Yorkers in eviction cases were represented by fewer than 100 attorneys; by 2022, the estimated need will be more than 1,000 attorneys, according to the law school faculty.
To gear up for the expansion, students are being trained in the school’s housing clinic. Scherer notes that prior to the law, law schools were reluctant to train students for housing court because so few jobs existed.
The supervisory training program, funded by the New York State IOLA Fund and the Robin Hood Foundation, will be offered for free to housing supervisors at nonprofits contracting to provide the attorneys. Applications are due Jan. 24.
“Housing court functions most fairly and efficiently when everyone at the table has high-quality legal representation, and NYLS’s Housing Justice Leadership Institute will support that goal,” said Jean Schneider, the citywide supervising judge of New York City Housing Court. “This program addresses a real need in New York City at a key moment of expansion for the city’s legal service providers.”
The school plans to enroll 20 supervisors for the inaugural spring program, which will begin Feb. 28 and run 10 days (mostly Fridays) through June 14. Graduates will receive CLE credit and a certificate from the school.
“It’s not enough that people just have an attorney,” Scherer said. “We want them to have real crackerjack attorneys who know the law inside and out, who litigate aggressively on the part of their clients, who see the big picture. We want top-notch attorneys who are excited about the work.”
Scherer, the former executive director of Legal Services NYC, sees high-level supervision as key to the law’s effectiveness.
“It’s going to make it easier for people to stay and make careers out of it,” he said. “If they don’t get the supervision they need and they don’t get the kind of engagement in the community of advocates, they move on.”