The ability to serve the legal needs of poor and nearly poor New Yorkers remains, despite enormous effort, short of the mark. For the second year in a row, the Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services reports that public interest organizations, facing diminishing IOLA and Legal Services Corporation funds, are at best able to serve only 20 percent of the New Yorkers who turn to them for help. That means that eight of every 10 impoverished New Yorkers in need of legal guidance are left to navigate on their own bureaucracies governing foreclosures, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, Veterans benefits, consumer debt, immigration and on and on. The burden on the courts is crushing. Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman has made the delivery of civil legal services a signature issue of his administration, managing to allocate funds in the 2012 judiciary budget to award modest grants to service providers to shore up sagging government funding. To increase human resources, he has proposed requiring that every applicant for admission to the New York bar contribute 50 hours of pro bono. In the face of the mounting crisis, New York law firms predictably have been extremely generous, devoting record amounts of time and resources. And the state’s bar groups and service providers have been steadfast in calling attention to the overwhelming need, and nimble in organizing scores of attorneys to handle a range of projects, from staffing clinics to handling individual SSI cases to supervising class action litigation.
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