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Free Family Law CLE

In return for 4.5 CLE credits and 10 pro bono CLE credits*, participants are required to complete a 20 hour pro bono practicum assisting litigants in the NYC Family Court Help Center within 6 months of training. All participants are supervised on site by attorneys with expertise in Family law.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015. View Flyer for more details.

*(Newly admitted attorneys may use pro bono service credits on a carry-over basis).

GAL Program Training

The Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) Program offers free training to attorneys and non- attorneys interested in becoming a Guardian Ad Litem in Housing Court. Participating attorneys are provided with free CLE credit, including one credit hour of ethics. This required course is taught by a panel of experts in the fields of legal and social work advocacy and landlord-tenant law.

In exchange for the credit, new GALs (attorneys and non-attorneys alike) commit to taking on a minimum of 3 pro-bono appointments over the course of the first year following training. Pro-bono appointments are appointments involving a ward that is not an Adult Protective Services client.

The GAL Program will be offering its next training on December 15th and 16th from 10 am- 2:15 pm each day. It will be provided in video replay format, except the last segment which will be live.*

To learn more about how to apply to become a GAL and participate in the next training, please go to Prospective Guardian Ad Litem Application Process. If you need additional information, email:

*Note: Attorneys admitted to the NY State bar for less than two years cannot receive CLE credit for watching video replays, but are welcome to participate in the GAL Program.



Bridge the Gap Training Series

The NYS Courts Access to Justice Program held a free "Bridge the Gap" training program for recent law school graduates and newly admitted attorneys. Training sessions in Consumer Debt, Ethics, Landlord & Tenant Law and Uncontested Divorce took place Tuesday, October 27th through Thursday, October 29th, 2015. In exchange for 18 CLE credits participants will complete a 50 hour pro bono practicum assisting litigants in the NYC Housing, Civil, and Supreme Courts. This training series encourages graduates and newly admitted attorneys to get involved in pro bono work early in their careers by bridging the gap between law school and the realities of practicing law. Forty-five recent law school graduates and newly admitted attorneys participated in this initiative.

Pro Bono Awards Celebration Held

In honor of National Pro Bono Celebration Week the NYS Courts Access to Justice Program, the New York State Bar Association, and the New York County Lawyers' Association (NYCLA) co-sponsored a lovely and festive pro bono volunteer recognition event on Thursday, October 28, 2015, at NYCLA. Numerous volunteers were recognized for their outstanding pro bono service. A list of those recognized can be found in the Pro Bono Awards Presentation and Reception Program. A photo gallery from the event is posted on the NYS Courts Access to Justice Program Facebook page:

Pro Bono Awards Celebration 2015
NYSBA President-elect Claire P. Gutekunst,
NYS Courts Access to Justice Program Director/DCAJ for NYC Courts Fern A. Fisher
and NYCLA President Carol A. Sigmond

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Spanish Instructions Added to Family Offense Petition Program
In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the NYS Advocate Family Offense Petition Program has been updated to provide instructions for Spanish speaking domestic violence victims. This feature will enable advocates and legal services attorneys using the document assembly program to better assist their Spanish speaking clients with their cases. The program is available to any domestic violence advocacy group and legal services organization once they have been trained and approved by New York State court system personnel. The program e-files the litigant's papers directly to the Family Court in any county in New York State. For more information about the program, contact Mike Williams in NYC or Melissa Mills outside NYC.

Domestic Violence GAL Training Held
On October 15, 2015, in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the NYS Access to Justice Program provided a free CLE training for all Housing Court Guardians Ad Litem and Volunteer Attorneys entitled: "Domestic Violence and Courtroom Advocacy." Jennifer L. DeCarli, Esq. LMSW, Senior Director, Legal Services, Her Justice, presented an overview of the dynamics of domestic violence, New York State’s family, criminal, immigration and housing laws relevant to domestic violence and resources available for victims of domestic violence. The training was both comprehensive and practically useful for all volunteers seeking to learn how to appropriately and sensitively empower litigants facing this additional stressor in their life.

Jennifer L. DeCarli, Esq. LMSW, Senior Director, Legal Services, Her Justice
Jennifer L. DeCarli, Esq. LMSW, Senior Director, Legal Services, Her Justice
presenting to Housing Court GALs and Volunteer Attorneys

Limited Scope “Law a la Carte” Conference Held

The NYS Courts Access to Justice Program hosted an all-day conference on limited scope practicing for low and moderate income clients at the New York City Civil Court on Wednesday, October 14th. The conference, co-sponsored by the NYS Courts Access to Justice Program and the NYS Bar Association was simulcasted to the New York State Bar in Albany.

The event addressed the important topic of limited scope representation, also known as unbundling, as one way to close the access to justice gap. The ethics, best practices and models of delivering legal services via limited scope representation were explored by national and New York experts, including James Sandman, President, Legal Services Corporation, William Hornsby, Counsel, ABA Standing Committee on Delivery of Legal Services, Hon. Dina Fein, Special Advisor, Access to Justice Initiatives, Massachusetts Courts, NYS Bar Association President-elect, Claire Gutekunst, and William Russell, NYS Bar Association’s President’s Committee on Access to Justice.

The conference was designed to inform, explore and address many of the issues of limited scope services. For the first time in New York this conference provided a forum for more than one hundred bar leaders, legal services attorneys, law firm pro bono coordinators, private practitioners, law school faculty and judges to come together to discuss this timely issue.

The conference materials are available online.

20,000 Consumer Debt Defendants Served by VLFD Program

On October 14, 2015, the NYS Courts Access to Justice Program hosted a reception at the New York City Civil Court to celebrate the milestone marked by the Volunteer Lawyer for the Day Consumer Debt Program representing 20,000 consumer debt defendants since its inception in 2009. At the celebration, Justice Fern A. Fisher presented plaques to current program partners Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project, New York County Lawyers’ Association, and the New York Legal Assistance Group; and past partner New York Appleseed. “We are so proud of the hundreds of attorneys who have provided legal representation through this program and our partner organizations who have worked with us to achieve justice for so many thousands of litigants,” said NYS Courts Access to Justice Program Director/Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Fern A. Fisher. See photo gallery of the honorees.

20,000+ consumer debtors helped!
Justice Fern A. Fisher at the VLFD Consumer Debt Program celebration


Maryland's Attorney General's Office Visits the NYS Courts Access to Justice Program

On September 9th, David M. Eppler, Special Assistant to the Attorney General of the State of Maryland, visited the NYS Courts Access to Justice Program to share ideas and discuss programs and resources that increase access to justice for people who do not have an attorney. In the morning, Judge Fisher and the Access to Justice Program's staff made presentations on various topics, including unbundled court based volunteer programs, community outreach programs, the guardian ad litem program, document assembly programs, the website and court help centers. In the afternoon, Mr. Eppler was escorted to the Bronx County Family Court Help Center to observe and tour the innovative facility.

David Eppler and Judge Fern Fisher
David Eppler and Judge Fern Fisher


Dawn Maletta Wins DIY Award

On August 20, 2015, Suffolk County Family Court Deputy Chief Clerk Dawn Maletta was awarded the NYS Courts Access to Justice Program’s prestigious DIY Star Award. Ms. Maletta's numerous contributions to DIY Form Programs included creating a DIY Center in her court and making a new Family Court DIY instruction sheet which is now used statewide. Read about Ms. Maletta and the DIY Star Award Ceremony.

LegalTech Pro Bono Innovation Award Presented

LegalTech News Editor-in-Chief Erin Harrison presented the New York State Unified Court System with the award for Best Pro Bono Technology Innovation for the court system’s online Family Offense Petition program. The program is used by domestic violence advocates and legal services attorneys to help victims obtain temporary orders of protection from the New York State Family Court. The program’s technology transfers the petitioner’s information directly to the court system, thereby speeding up the process for everyone involved. Mark O’Brien, Executive Director of Pro Bono Net, who nominated the court system for the award, and worked on the project, opened the ceremony held in New York City on August 11, 2015. Justice Fern A. Fisher, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge of NYC Courts and Director of the NYS Courts Access to Justice Program, accepted the award on behalf of the court system. Judge Fisher gave a moving speech where she relayed the story of her own mother’s experience with physical domestic abuse, which resulted in Judge Fisher losing her childhood home in foreclosure.

LegalTech Innovation Award Presentation
top row: Mark O'Brien, Erin Harrison, Josefa Romera, Michael McLoughlin, Maureen Curtis, Chip Mount, Mike Williams. bottom row: Karin Romans, Kimberlina Kavern, Alice Hawks, Judge Fern Fisher, Deirdre Lok, Rochelle Klempner, Niki DeMel, Sun Kim.

All the speakers remarked on the collaborative effort undertaken to build this program. Judge Fisher recognized the input of the DV advocate community during the development and pilot phases of the project, commenting how their testing and feedback of the HotDocs program helped the NYS Courts Access to Justice Program’s attorney-technologist Sun Kim create a superior Family Offense Petition program. Judge Fisher acknowledged the efforts of NYC Family Court personnel Mike Williams and Mike McLoughlin in the roll-out and success of the program in NYC and Melissa Mills for her work rolling out the program outside NYC. Chip Mount, the court system’s Director of Court Research and Technology, also spoke and acknowledged the many people that played a role in the success of this collaborative project.

The ceremony was attended via Skype by the members of the court system’s Department of Technology team, programmers Krzysztof Habich (technical lead), Qin Fan, Kevin Walker; analysts Amelia Sessions , Steven Hicks, Jim Howard, and Chet Zink; and framework team Jason Hill and Cliff DeCarlo. Led by Carol Greco Champitto, the team was instrumental in building the bridge between Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Interactive server and the court system’s case management system. In addition, a number of domestic violence advocates who lent their expertise to the project and now use the program to assist DV victims were present, including Maureen Curtis, Safe Horizons; Alice Hawks, NYC Family Justice Center, Brooklyn; Kimberlina Kavern, Safe Horizons; Deirdre Lok, Hebrew Home at Riverdale; and Josefa Romero, Safe Horizons. Additional staff from New York City Family Court, the Access to Justice Program and Pro Bono Net attended. See a Photo Gallery of the event.


Tackling Economic Inequality

Justice Fern Fisher, Director of the NYS Courts Access to Justice Program and Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for New York City Courts has published an essay for the "Tackling Economic Inequality" symposium hosted at the Impact Center for Public Interest Law Racial Justice Project at New York Law School. Entitled "Insuring Civil Justice for All: Meeting the Challenges of Poverty," she discusses the particular challenges persons who live in poverty face when they encounter the civil justice system and the need for the justice system to address those challenges.

NYS Court System Wins LegalTech Innovation Award

On July 14, 2015, the NYS court system’s Advocate Family Offense Petition Program received the LegalTech West Innovative Use of Technology in a Pro Bono Project award. The online program enables domestic violence advocates and legal services attorneys to assist victims with the preparation of their court papers seeking a temporary order of protection in the Family Court. The document assembly program was developed by the NYS Courts Access to Justice Program working with the NYC Family Court and domestic violence advocate groups. The court system’s Department of Technology worked with Pro Bono Net to build the technology that transfers the victim’s information directly to the court. The project was nominated for the award by Pro Bono Net. Read more about the project.

NYS Court Access to Justice Program Hosts Pennsylvania Court and Legal Services Visitors

Mike Williams, the Clerk of Court of Bronx Family Court with Vivian Appel and Sheila Fisher at Bronx Family Court Help Center
Mike Williams, the Clerk of Court of Bronx Family Court, with Vivian Appel and Sheila Fisher at the Help Center

On July 9-10, Vivian M. Appel, Esq., Family Court Administrator, Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas and Sheila J. Fisher, Esq., document assembly developer, North Penn Legal Services, visited the NYS Courts Access to Justice Program. On day one, discussion and presentations were made about the Access to Justice Program’s work on document assembly programs, court help centers, and the unrepresented litigant training conducted for judicial and non-judicial staff. On day two, the Pennsylvania guests were escorted to the Bronx County Family Court Help Center for a tour of its state-of-the-art services.

Uncontested Divorce Program Expands to Staten Island!

The New York State Courts Access to Justice Program will expand its Uncontested Divorce Clinic to Staten Island starting in July. Volunteer attorneys will assist pro se litigants seeking to file for simple uncontested divorces. The clinic will now operate in all 5 New York City counties.

Approximately 20 volunteer attorneys attended the program’s first training session. Volunteers will receive Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits for attending the training session and pro bono CLE credits for volunteering in the Clinic. This program was presented in co-sponsorship with the Staten Island Women’s Bar Association.

The clinic will take place weekly in the Old Supreme Court Library, Staten Island. The clinic will be by appointment only. For more information about this program contact:

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