PRO BONO PROGRAM
L.R. Civ. P. 83.8
In an effort to facilitate equal access to justice for pro se litigants, the Court has enacted L.R. Civ. P. 83.8. The Local Rule creates a centralized, equitable, and transparent system for assigning pro bono counsel to eligible pro se litigants by establishing the following categories for pro bono representation:
Volunteer Panel (L.R. Civ. P. 83.8(A)(1)): Comprised of attorneys who volunteer for pro bono appointments.
Assignment Wheel (L.R. Civ. P. 83.8(A)(2)): Comprised of all attorneys who have entered an appearance within the last two years of the appointment and have an office within this district.
Senior Pro Bono Panel (L.R. Civ. P. 83.8(A)(3)): Comprised of experienced federal practitioners who, upon request of the Court, or otherwise, have volunteered to be appointed as pro bono co-counsel to assist less experienced pro bono attorneys.
When appointing pro bono counsel, the Court will randomly select an attorney from the Volunteer Panel. If the Volunteer Panel is exhausted, the Court will randomly select an attorney from the Assignment Wheel. Where appropriate, the Court may, sua sponte or at the request of the appointed attorney, appoint a member of the Senior Pro Bono Panel as co-counsel.
JOINING THE VOLUNTEER PANEL
Participation in the Court’s Pro Bono Program bestows a service to the community by ensuring that indigent litigants receive equal access to justice and greatly assists the Court in the adjudication of its pro se cases. To join the Volunteer Panel, please submit a Pro Bono Volunteer Panel Form to: firstname.lastname@example.org
By volunteering, attorneys are committing to no more than one pro bono appointment at a time. Upon completion of an appointment, an attorney will not be eligible for another appointment (unless requested by the attorney) for one or two years depending on whether they complete a limited or full scope appointment.
Some benefits of volunteering include:
- Less experienced attorneys can gain Federal Court experience under the mentorship of a member of the Senior Pro Bono Panel;
- Be considered a volunteer to the Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project, Inc. (“VLP”) or the Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County, Inc. (“VLSP”) and be afforded all accompanying benefits, including earning CLE credit and being provided malpractice coverage;
- Selection of a full or limited scope appointment; and
- Volunteer hours count toward satisfaction of the aspirational goal to provide 50 pro bono hours of service every two years, included in Rule 6.1 of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct.
“As a young associate at a large firm, taking on a pro bono matter in the Western District of New York gave me opportunities and experience I never would have had otherwise, including working a federal case from the beginning to post-jury verdict resolution. In addition, a federal jury sided with our client and gave him a large monetary award. This would not have happened if the plaintiff had continued on pro se. Taking on this pro bono case has been one of the more rewarding experiences I have had as an attorney in my career thus far.” – Aaron Aisen, Esq.
“I have been fortunate enough to handle several pro bono assignments over the years. The exposure that those matters have given me to the Federal Court Judges in the District has been a real benefit to my practice in other contexts. While I had handled trials and arbitrations before, I give full credit to the local pro bono program for giving me my first opportunity to try a full case to a federal court jury. Winning helps, of course, but even if we hadn’t, I would still look back on that time as being one of the major building blocks of my litigation and trial practice. It was a truly rewarding experience.” – Stephen Kelkenberg, Esq.
“The Western District of New York pro bono program is a vital means of providing legal representation to the poor and gives attorneys valuable experience in all areas of federal litigation. Attorneys take depositions, engage in motion practice, and appear before the Court far earlier than is typical in private practice. Attorneys performing pro bono services not only give needed legal advice, but also gain skills and develop relationships that improve their legal practice.” – Daniel Moar, Esq.
“I have been accepting pro bono appointments from the Western District of New York since the late 1990s. Most of these cases I have been assigned have been civil rights cases brought under 42 U.S.C. sec 1983, including prisoner civil rights cases and police brutality cases. This work has been among the most challenging and the most fulfilling of my legal career. My pro bono clients have included a former employee of New York State who alleged sexual harassment and discriminatory treatment on the job, three different victims of police brutality . . ., an inmate held unlawfully beyond the end of his lawful sentence, a transgender inmate seeking treatment for her gender dysphoria, and an inmate suing for denial of adequate medical care. Many of these cases have involved legal issues on the cutting edge of developing constitutional jurisprudence; all of them have involved plaintiffs whom I believe had suffered harm at the hands of employees of governmental entities – whether or not the harm was ultimately redressable in court. The Judges of the Western District of New York are careful to appoint pro bono counsel only to cases that appear to have potential merit – and cases in which attorneys for the plaintiffs can make a real difference. Litigating these cases provides attorneys an opportunity to assist the Court in administering justice, and, in my experience earns the gratitude of the Court, the plaintiffs, and opposing counsel. I strongly recommend the experience to every civil litigator.” – Anna Marie Richmond, Esq.
“Over the years, I have accepted a number of pro bono assignments from the Western District Judges. These have ranged from a religious discrimination claim that went to the Second Circuit to a Federal Tort Claims Act trial on behalf of a prisoner injured during transport. Although this work has been challenging, it has also been rewarding. In recent years these assignments have given younger lawyers in my firm an opportunity to gain experience while co-trying one of these cases. But beyond the benefit to the clients and to myself and the younger attorneys, volunteering for these assignments helps the administration of justice in the Western District, which is beneficial to all. I highly recommend signing up for the Pro Bono Panel, or if you are a senior lawyer willing to supervise a less experienced lawyer, for the Senior Pro Bono Panel.” -- Stephen Schwarz, Esq.
“The pro bono program certainly does what we think it does: It gives newer attorneys opportunities to hone their skills and (when those newer attorneys are appropriately supervised), it gives the needy access to experienced counsel. But it also does something else, which I think is under-appreciated: It provides attorneys an opportunity to interact with segments of the population that often are marginalized. It makes the invisible people visible to us. It allows us to develop compassion and empathy. These are experiences to be cherished.” – Gregory Zini, Esq.
DISTRICT COURT FUND INFORMATION
It is the policy of this Court to encourage members of the bar to represent parties who are unable to afford counsel. In furtherance of this policy, the Court has adopted certain guidelines governing the reimbursement of expenses of court-appointed counsel.
When an attorney has been appointed to represent an indigent party in a civil matter, that attorney may petition the Court for reimbursement of certain expenses. These expenses, which are defined in the Guidelines, must be incurred in the preparation and presentation of the case before this Court. Funding for this reimbursement program shall be obtained from this Court’s "District Court Fund" and the total limit allowable per client represented, absent extraordinary circumstances, can also be found in the Guidelines.
DISTRICT COURT FUND DOCUMENTS
PRO BONO PROGRAM CONTACT INFORMATION:
Pro Bono Administrator: Amanda G. Williams, Esq.
Phone: (716) 551-1511