Taking an Action – Access to Justice


Linda Clarke’s volunteerism is a great example of the extraordinary commitment of senior lawyers working with the New York State Attorney Emeritus Program. Ever since its establishment in 2010, the AEP has helped address the legal needs of many low-income New Yorkers who cannot afford to hire an attorney. According to the New York State Permanent Commission on Access to Justice, approximately 1.8 million New Yorkers appear in court proceedings unrepresented by an attorney.[1] These numbers provide a glimpse of the scale of the problem the AEP is trying to help solve. Former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman created the program to help address this “justice gap” and Chief Judge Janet DiFiore has enthusiastically embraced the AEP and its mission.

The program’s impact is significant: Since its launch, over 1,800 attorney volunteers have enrolled in the AEP. In the last two years alone, 40 emeritus volunteers provided over 9,000 pro bono hours for the benefit of the community. Based on an analysis by the Taproot Foundation, these numbers equate to approximately $1.9 million worth of pro bono work in the last two years alone.[2]

From advising clients on hotlines, to taking on legal cases and fully representing clients, the program provides a full spectrum of pro bono opportunities. The program’s success is owed to the dedicated volunteers who are willing to invest their time and skills to assist people in need of legal services. AEP volunteers are experienced attorneys, as the requirement for participating in the program is to be 55 years of age, be in good standing, and have practiced for a minimum of ten years. Each attorney volunteer commits to 60 pro bono hours in a two-year period, but many volunteers serve more hours.

Linda Clarke’s volunteer work has enhanced one leading legal services provider’s capacity to serve clients. As a former professor in the United Kingdom and a staff attorney at the New York State Attorney General’s Office, Clarke offers a diligent and creative approach to helping low-income immigrants through MFY’s hotline in a range of legal issues. She has volunteered far more than the 60-hour commitment and made a significant contribution to reducing the justice gap. She shared her experience volunteering at MFY Legal Services as an emeritus volunteer.

Why did you decide to join AEP?
I had not worked in the United States very long. I was previously a professor in the U.K. When I moved to the States, I decided to sit for the New York Bar. I worked for the attorney general’s office for a period. After my mom passed away, I suddenly read about AEP, and it seemed ideal because of the transition I was going through in my career.

Please describe the project you are working on.
I help with the Workplace Justice Project at MFY, which serves low-income New Yorkers. The project advocates for workers’ rights in a variety of ways. Workers who face discrimination, unsafe job conditions, issues with public benefits, and workers’ compensation issues are the clients we serve.

What has been the most rewarding experience?
I am able to help someone just by listening to them. Often the legal answer is only part of the equation. It’s a rewarding feeling to know that I am helping take on their issues and that I am there to help.

You worked well above the 60-hour requirement and dedicated 700 hours of pro bono hours to MFY clients. What drove you to dedicate so many hours as an AEP volunteer?
I think my circumstances permit me to volunteer so many hours. I am not working and travel back to Europe for a period during the summer. Volunteering at MFY is a great balance of my time. It is a way to be productive and to give back.

Would you recommend the program to other attorneys?
Yes definitely. First, the benefits you receive are incredible. As a retired attorney, you are exempt from paying the registration fee and from the CLE requirements. This is something every retired attorney should look into. But, even more important, volunteering through the AEP is a fantastic way of staying involved in legal services and to give back—it’s all very worthwhile.

Maia Goodell, supervising attorney at MFY, talks more about the organization and Clarke’s contribution.

MFY envisions a society in which there is equal justice for all. MFY’s mission is to achieve social justice, prioritizing the needs of people who are low-income, disenfranchised, or have disabilities. We do this by providing the highest quality direct civil legal assistance, providing community education, entering into partnerships, engaging in policy advocacy, and bringing impact litigation.

MFY’s Workplace Justice Project provides a voice in the legal system to hundreds of low-wage and immigrant workers who would be unable to access justice without our help. In collaboration with elected officials, workers’ centers, and community-based organizations citywide, the project advocates for workers’ rights, focusing especially on the problems faced by low-wage and immigrant workers and people with criminal records re-entering the labor market.

The Workplace Justice Project operates a citywide hotline that helps hundreds of callers understand their legal rights at work. Key to our work, this hotline provides individualized advice and referrals to workers who would not otherwise know their rights.

Under Linda Clarke’s expert hand, the hotline has become an unparalleled resource for a wide variety of employment issues. Her deep substantive knowledge and keen legal insight give hundreds of callers an accurate legal answer quickly and efficiently; her compassion assuages their fear and frustration in difficult circumstances. She has also helped us hone a referral list that connects people with the right help for their situation. Finally, she identifies cases that fall within our priorities with accuracy, helping us fight exploitation of immigrant workers and other discrimination, advance workplace safety and health, and help people with past criminal records overcome legal barriers to employment.

Linda has volunteered with MFY since 2014 and has become an indispensable member of the Workplace Justice Project, lending her experience at weekly intake meetings and project retreats to help hone priorities and responses. She stays connected to new developments, bringing this knowledge to the project as well. Particularly in the current fast-moving environment, her ideas have been invaluable in helping us respond to everything from changing federal policies to individual clients’ needs.

We thank Linda and MFY for their service to the community and to low-wage and immigrant workers!

[1] The Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services in New York State, Report to the Chief Judge of the State of New York 2 (Nov. 2014), http://www.nycourts.gov/accesstojusticecommission/PDF/CLS%20TaskForce%20Report%202014.pdf;. See also New York State Courts Access to Justice Program, Working Toward 100% Meaningful Access to Justice; Report to the Chief Judge and the Chief Administrative Judge of the State of New York 59 (2016,) http://www.nycourts.gov/ip/nya2j/pdfs/NYA2J_2016report.pdf; Permanent Commission on Access to Justice, Report to the Chief Judge of the State of New York 6 (Nov. 2016), http://www.nycourts.gov/accesstojusticecommission/PDF/2016_Access_to_Justice-Report.pdf.

[2] Taproot Foundation, Pro Bono Valuation: What’s the Monetary Valuation of Pro Bono Service?, https://www.taprootfoundation.org/do-probono/pro-bono-valuation (accessed on May 13, 2017).


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