In addition to being the oldest and largest provider of legal services to the poor in the United States, the Legal Aid Society of New York has a long-standing reputation for zealous advocacy. Founded in 1876 to protect the rights of German immigrants in New York City, Der Deutscher Rechts-Schutz Verein (The German Legal Aid Society) initially focused on civil legal assistance, although early on the organization expressed an interest in criminal matters as well. Soon the organization extended beyond its initial client base, dropped the word ‘‘German’’ from its name, and solidified its financial footing by soliciting help from top-notch New York law firms and the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. At present, the Legal Aid Society’s work is divided
into three major areas: Civil Practice, Criminal Practice, and Juvenile Rights Practice. According to data compiled by the organization, on an annual basis it handles more than 200,000 indigent criminal cases, serves as law guardian for children in more than 30,000 cases before the Family Court, and is involved in more than 30,000 civil cases for families, individuals, and community groups. Moreover, the Society conducts class action litigation on behalf of numerous groups, including foster children, elderly poor, and inmates at Rikers Island.
The Society represents its clients through offices located in eighteen facilities throughout New York City’s five boroughs, and employs roughly 800 attorneys. With ninety percent of its funding stemming from public sources, the Society’s fiscal fortunes have tended to ebb and flow with the political currents. Even in the face of financial obstacles, however, the Society’s devotion to indigent New Yorkers seemingly never wavers.
DANIEL S. MEDWED
References and Further Reading