To commemorate the first annual Pro Bono Week (October 25-31), the New York State Bar Association has launched a new campaign called The Good We Do to recognize the significant contributions made by the scores of attorneys across the state who donate their time, services and expertise to meet the ever-growing legal needs of low-income people and others who have been hard hit by the economic downturn. Among the attorneys being singled out by the Association is Toni Anne Nichels of Yorktown Heights.
A fulltime attorney at the Xerox Corporation where she serves as Employment and HR Counsel and Pro Bono Coordinator, Nichels provides free legal services to help non-profits in the lower Hudson Valley. Even as the recession begins to loosen its grip, non-profit organizations still face difficult challenges to stay open and provide essential services while coping with reduced staff and diminishing resources.
Among the non-profits that have benefitted from Nichel’s volunteer work is the Ossining Children’s Center that has provided high-quality child care for more than 100 years to children of working parents regardless of their ability to pay. According to Howard Milbert, executive director of the Center, in reviewing the organization’s new personnel policies, Nichels was meticulous about attention to detail.
Milbert said, “Aside from making sure that we were in compliance with the law, Toni took the time and effort to understand our unique needs and concerns. The clarity of our new personnel policies has made us more efficient, so we can focus on doing what we do best – nurturing and teaching children. We owe Toni a deep debt of gratitude.”
“I have always been dedicated to the mission of pro bono. One person can have a huge impact on an organization, allowing them to fulfill their own mission,” said Nichels. “Doing pro bono service has been an interesting and rewarding experience. It’s a terrific feeling.”
A volunteer from an early age, Nichels became an attorney, deciding that it was a “great way to help people.” Upon attending a Continuing Legal Education program on pro bono services in 2001, Nichels became a volunteer with the Pro Bono Partnership in White Plains, which provides business legal assistance to non-profit organizations. She has handled more than 90 pro bono matters since joining the Partnership.
New York State Bar Association President Michael E. Getnick (Getnick Livingston Atkinson & Priore, LLP of Utica and of counsel to Getnick & Getnick of New York City), said, “Increasingly, more and more New Yorkers and worthy non-profit organizations, are finding it harder to keep their heads above water as they try to navigate our legal system. Whether in foreclosure cases, immigration matters, or child custody issues, every New Yorker should have equal access to justice. The State Bar is proud to salute attorneys, like Toni Nichels, who truly live the words, and justice for all.”
One of her most frequent pro bono clients is the Jewish Council of Yonkers (JCY) -Westchester Community Partners which develops intergenerational programs to meet the needs of the community – young and old. Nichels began her involvement with JCY by reviewing personnel policies. Over time, she has become an unofficial “in-house counsel” providing the JCY with her expertise on benefits packages, separation agreements and vacation policies.
“A small not-for-profit organization such as ours could never afford support such as we received from Toni,” said Janice Lubin Kirschner, executive director of the JCY. “Toni is so knowledgeable, easy to work with, very prompt, thorough, professional and available. She has been fabulous.”
A graduate of University of Notre Dame Law School, Nichels is the 2003 recipient of the American Bar Association Business Law Section’s Outstanding Nonprofit Attorney - Outstanding Young Attorney Award. Within the New York State Bar, she is a member of the Labor and Employment Section and a past member of the Committee on Women in the Law.