50 HOUR PRO BONO PROJECT
Empire Justice Center offers a great and convenient way to get your pro bono hours from the comfort of your home.
Any person applying to the NYS Bar must perform at least 50 hours of pro bono related law work before being admitted. When participating in the Fair Hearing Bank Pro Bono Project, your job will be to create summaries of fair hearing decisions, which will be used by those who advocate on behalf of people who’ve had their public benefits reduced, denied or discontinued.
New York’s neediest are eligible for a variety of public benefits, including cash public assistance, food stamps, Medicaid and child care subsidies. These benefits help low income families keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. When an application for public benefits is denied, or benefits are reduced or discontinued, the affected individual is entitled to have their case heard by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) employed by the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) at a fair hearing. This hearing is an opportunity for the individual to show why their benefits should be issued or reinstated. The ALJ will then issue a written decision stating whether the local agency’s decision regarding the benefits was correct or incorrect.
There are nearly 120,000 fair hearings held every year in New York State. In the same manner that courts must follow precedent, Administrative Law Judges must follow the holdings of prior fair hearing decisions unless the agency can distinguish the case before them on the facts or law. Matter of Field Delivery Serv., 66 N.Y. 2d 516, 520 (1985). This is called administrative stare decisis. It is important, therefore, for attorneys and pro se litigants to have access to fair hearing decisions to understand how OTDA has ruled in the past. While OTDA maintains an online archive of fair hearings, it contains hundreds of thousands of decisions, does not highlight precedential hearings and only contains decisions starting from November, 2010.
Empire Justice Center maintains a selective bank of fair hearing decisions going back to 1979 that have precedential value to advocates and litigants. This Fair Hearing Bank is part of the Online Resource Center (ORC), administered by the Western New York Law Center. Each decision in the Bank has been submitted to Empire Justice Center after being identified by a legal services attorney as a hearing that stands for an important principle. It is then summarized concisely and added to the searchable ORC Fair Hearing Bank. It is designed so that legal services attorneys can find the cases that they need quickly and easily. In order for the ORC Fair Hearing Bank to be effective, someone must first summarize and catalogue the decisions.
1. What is the Fair Hearing Bank Pro Bono Project?
Hearing decisions must be summarized and categorized before they can be added to the ORC Fair Hearing Bank. Your job will be to complete these summaries and add them to the Bank. The summaries will be reviewed by an attorney from Empire Justice Center before they are posted on the Online Resource Center. The entire process will be supervised by an attorney from Empire Justice Center.
To see what the Fair Hearing Bank looks like, click here to go to the Online Resource Center, hit the “Log In” button and register, and take a look around!
2. Why should I do this project?
Unlike most other opportunities, you can work on this project from the comfort of your home on your personal computer, on a flexible schedule that works for you. In addition, you will learn more about administrative law, public benefits, improve your analytical and writing skills, and gain insight into the challenges of poverty. If you are interested in working for a legal aid or legal services office in the future, you will gain a valuable understanding of the laws and regulations that govern the benefits programs that support many low income families.
3. How can I get involved in this opportunity?
Please send an email to Susan Antos (Santos@empirejustice.org). Attach your resume to the email explaining your interest in the project, how many hearings you are willing to summarize and the date that you expect your summaries to be complete.
4. How many pro bono hours will I receive for completing the summaries?
You will receive 1 hour of pro bono credit for EACH completed summary.
5. Is there a minimum number of cases I have to summarize?
Though a 10 hour minimum commitment is possible, we highly prefer at least a 25 hour commitment.
6. How will I know which cases to summarize?
An attorney from Empire Justice Center will provide you with a list of cases to be summarized. Once you finish your initial set of summaries, you can ask to be assigned additional cases.
7. How will I know how to summarize a case and submit it?
Our training materials are available at the link above.
8. How do I get pro bono credit for the project?
Upon completion of your summaries, please fill out the Form of Affidavit Compliance and send it to Susan Antos at Santos@empirejustice.org, who will then verify your completed work and return the completed form to you.
For general information about satisfying the New York state pro bono requirement, click here.