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November 30, 2012

The Good We Do: Lucien A. Morin II

When Lucien A. Morin II learned that the Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County (VLSP) had a backlog of 19 bankruptcy cases in 2009, he didn't shy away from helping.

Believing that "people should not have to wait a year for a lawyer," Morin turned to his assistant and asked her, "Are you ready? Let's do this."

A determined Morin cleared out the full backlog in 2009 and took on four more cases on the 2012 backlog.

Those who know Morin are not surprised by his community service. His father Lucien A. Morin, a former county executive of Monroe County, always stressed to his family the importance of giving back.

"To us, it was the community of Monroe and we assisted those in need," said Morin, a partner of McConville, Considine, Cooman & Morin and a Chapter 7 trustee.

Morin began volunteering with the VLSP through the encouragement of the late Hanna Cohn, a past executive director of the VLSP.

When the Great Recession hit, Morin noticed many people approached VLSP with bankruptcy problems, but there were not enough lawyers to help them.

"There are more and more demands on attorneys since the 2005 amendment," of the bankruptcy law, said Morin.

The VLSP clients he helped were mostly women, notably single mothers and grandmothers blindsided by the recession.

"People who used to be above the poverty level were all of a sudden creeping down. I saw a lot of people who have slipped or who lost jobs," said Morin.

Having seen firsthand how lawyers can help people in need, Morin encourages his colleagues to take on cases and help reduce the backlog.

"It's been very rewarding. I enjoy helping people and being able to help them get a fresh start," said Morin. "We are able to help them get their lives back together."

Aside from his bankruptcy work, Morin assisted 38 clients through the VLSP's Debt Collection Advice Clinic in 2011. A veteran himself, Morin enjoys helping other veterans.

Morin received the President's Pro Bono Service Award for the Seventh Judicial District in 2012.

The Good We Do: Benjamin Pomerance

When Benjamin Pomerance attended an orientation for new students at Albany Law School, he noticed the Albany Stratton VA (Veterans Affairs) Medical center across the street on Holland Avenue.

He wondered if Albany Law had a program to help veterans and found that no such program existed.

His parents half-jokingly told him, "You should start one." So he did.

Pomerance founded and leads the Veterans Pro Bono Project at Albany Law School as a tribute to his uncle, Robert Nydam, a former Marine and Otsego County Judge who died in 1997.

He has donated more than 300 hours of pro bono services to the project while maintaining an A grade point average.

"There is a definite need for legal help for veterans," said Pomerance, now a third-year law student.

Fearing an empty room for the first meeting, he was astonished when 17 students showed up. All of the students, whom he described as "extremely dedicated and hard-working," continue to volunteer and provide new ideas.

He has organized a three-hour continuing legal education program on unmet legal needs facing homeless military veterans. It attracted a standing-room only crowd.

"This is a tremendous problem statewide and nationwide," said Pomerance. "There are far too many jobless and homeless veterans who cannot access their benefits."

He and other volunteers assist at a monthly Wills for Heroes pro bono program at the Albany Housing Coalition's Veteran's House. The program is a collaborative effort between the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, the Albany County Bar Association and the firm of Hiscock & Barclay. They assist pro bono attorneys and draft wills for review by a Hiscock & Barclay attorney.

Pomerance also implemented a new free legal clinic for veterans at the Albany Law School in February 2012. Student volunteers do an intake over the phone, then work with attorneys for a 30-60 minute consultation.

Eighty-seven veterans, from World War II to Iraq and Afghanistan, attended the first two clinics held in the spring.

Seeing the impact that the project has on veterans is particularly important to Pomerance.

"All veterans come with unique needs. Every single veteran has been very moved by the force of law students and lawyers who care about them and want them to get back on their feet," said Pomerance.

At a spring clinic, a Korean War veteran with a complicated benefits plan told Pomerance, "I never knew how many people of all ages truly care about us."

Pomerance received the President's Pro Bono Service for a Law Student in 2012.

The Good We Do: Noah Liben

An abused wife with multiple sclerosis and her son have a second shot at life thanks to Noah Liben.

As a law student, he had volunteered as a law student with Fordham Law's Domestic Violence Awareness Clinic. Now a young associate at Mayer Brown in New York City, he was looking to do some pro bono work.

When his firm's pro bono coordinator sent him a digest of open pro bono cases, he "jumped at the chance" to help Judith (not her real name).

Judith, a Bronx resident and the mother of a two-year old son, had reached out to InMotion to obtain a divorce from her husband. Throughout her marriage, her husband had hit, pushed and choked her. He repeatedly violated the order of protection against him and continued to stalk her.

Before no-fault divorce was legal in New York, Judith filed for an uncontested divorce. She and Liben thought the case would resolve quickly, but Judith's husband continually complicated matters. At the same time, Judith was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis limiting her mobility and diminishing her eyesight.

In his first official court appearances as an attorney, Liben represented Judith in four legal matters. He persuaded the court to conduct a child support inquest without Judith's husband and successfully advocated for $200 per month in child support.

But after the divorce was finalized, Judith's now ex-husband filed for visitation rights and an order of protection against her. He falsely alleged that Judith had violated the temporary order of protection and tried to have her arrested. However, the police had arrested him for routinely violating Judith's orders of protection against him.

Liben volunteered again to represent Judith before the Bronx County Integrated Domestic Violence Court. He successfully negotiated with opposing counsel and had Judith's ex-husband's family offense petition withdrawn.

When the ex-husband violated the restricted temporary visitation order, Liben convinced the court to dismiss the ex-husband's visitation petition altogether. He also obtained a money judgment for the back child support he owed.

At the end of this ordeal, Judith secured a divorce, full custody of her son with no visitation rights, a three-year order of protection, and a child support award.

The last time Liben spoke to Judith, she was "in good spirits." Liben said his work with Judith was a "great experience, personally and professionally."

"It was a different dynamic than the large cases I work on," said Liben, who practices litigation and dispute resolution cases. "It was extremely gratifying to really help an individual in a tangible way."

Liben received the President's Pro Bono Service Award for the Twelfth Judicial District in 2012.

About November 2012

This page contains all entries posted to The Good We Do in November 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

February 2012 is the previous archive.

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