In response to growing numbers of people who show up at legal proceedings involving evictions, foreclosures and debt collections without attorneys, New York’s court system has created a new category of lawyer—attorney emeritus—to encourage more lawyers to volunteer their services.
Jonathan Lippman, chief judge of the State of New York and chief judge of the Court of Appeals, said that the change would end the longstanding practice whereby lawyers were required to register with the state as either active or retired.
Lippman credited the idea to Fern Schair, board chair at the Feerick Center for Social Justice at Fordham Law School. Schair noted that because of the economy, even organizations that provide free legal services, such as the Legal Aid Services, are struggling to keep up with the demand.
Lippman told the New York Times that he jumped at the idea when she proposed it last summer.
“I immediately said to her, ‘We’re going to do it,’” he said. “This struck me as a unique opportunity to seize the day.”
Court officials estimate that the number of people who say they cannot afford lawyers has increased from 300,000 in 2005 to 2.1 million annually in 2009. A 2002 statewide survey, meanwhile, found that only about a quarter of all lawyers work more than 20 hours a year on such projects.