One Case, Many Takeaways: Bei Yang’s Experience with AABANY Remote Pro Bono Legal Clinic

By Bei Yang

As an out-of-state law graduate from Tennessee, I was not familiar with any specific New York practice rules. While waiting for my bar exam results and preparing for my legal career in New York, and with the encouragement of my mentor Mr. Rocky Chin, I participated in the AABANY Remote Pro Bono Legal Clinic. The Clinic provides legal information and referrals to individuals, particularly those with limited English proficiency, with legal issues such as immigration, housing, employment, family, elder law, anti-Asian violence, and those pertaining to small businesses.

After registration, I received an email with a list of cases that was sent to all volunteers. Volunteers can choose to take on one or more cases based on interests or experience, and if you are not licensed or not experienced in a specific area, the Clinic partners you with a more experienced attorney to remotely shadow and learn from. Since I have not yet been admitted and this was my first time volunteering, I decided to shadow Ms. May Wong, an experienced volunteer attorney, on a contract law case.

Before making a callback, Ms. Wong and I knew that our client only spoke Mandarin and had been recently served with a Summons. With this limited information at hand, we discussed the legal matters that we needed to inform the client of. These matters included the risk of a default judgment if the clinic client did not respond to the service in a timely fashion (CPLR §3215: default judgment), the possible defenses the client might take, like defects in the service of process (§CPLR 308: Methods of personal service upon a natural person), and the statute of limitations (CPLR §213(2): 6 years for a breach of contract claim in New York). Ms. Wong then patiently went over the normal calling process and basic civil procedure in New York with me. Only after making sure that I did not have any more questions and was comfortable to make the call, she started our three-way phone call with the clinic client.

On the call, we explained our limited roles and asked the client to elaborate on the facts of his case. While acting as a language interpreter, I was able to ask the caller questions about his case to narrow down the issues, thus gaining useful intake skills. I learned that this case was about a family business dispute worth $25,000. The caller was not represented by an attorney and we strongly encouraged him to engage one rather than risking a default judgment, which is enforceable for 20 years and would cost him more money to vacate.

Not only did the client receive useful legal information regarding his case, but he also felt like his voice was finally heard. Volunteering with the pro bono clinic was a great experience, as I was able to learn so much about New York civil procedure rules and gain a lot of important legal experience from just one case. I look forward to continuing my volunteering experience to become an advocate to help those with limited resources and language skills.

To volunteer for the Remote Pro Bono Clinic, please email: clinic.volunteer@aabany.org.

For more information about AABANY Pro Bono Resources, please visit: https://probono.aabany.org/

Congratulations to AABANY Pro Bono and Community Service Committee Co-Chair Karen Yau for Receiving NAPABA’s 2020 Pro Bono Award

On September 3rd, 2020 the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (“NAPABA”) announced their 2020 award winners which included Karen Kithan Yau, Of Counsel at Kakalec Law LLP and the Pro Bono and Community Service (“PBCS”) Committee Co-Chair of the Asian American Bar Association of New York (“AABANY”). AABANY is thrilled to have our PBCS Co-Chair recognized for her dedication and service to the community. “I am humbled to receive this honor. I could not have accomplished all that I have but for my incredible colleagues of the PBCS Committee, who are gifted lawyers dedicated to the community good,” Karen said.

Karen was recruited to co-chair the PBCS Committee in 2017 and led AABANY members in the Pro Bono Legal Advice and Referral Clinic (“the Clinic”), the PBCS Committee’s signature and ambitious project, which began two years earlier. The Clinic continues to leverage the linguistic and cultural competence available through AABANY’s diverse membership to help the large and diverse but underserved Asian American Pacific Islanders (“AAPI”) community in New York. 

Karen’s leadership and compassion have allowed the Clinic to thrive, including in its current state as a remote clinic due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the pandemic, the Clinic deployed 161 volunteers to serve 418 pro bono clients between 2018 and 2019, which represents a 700% growth from its inception in 2015, in 13 languages besides English. At the 2020 AABANY Annual Dinner, the Clinic received the New York State Bar Association Bar Leaders Innovation Award. “The Clinic’s success was due in no small part to Karen’s deep commitment to serving the public, amplified by vision, leadership and setting a high standard for others to follow,” said AABANY’s Executive Director Yang Chen. Since July when the remote version of the Clinic launched, close to 200 clients have received assistance. 

Karen joined Kakalec Law, an employment and civil rights law firm, after amassing legal, teaching, and professional experience in the public service, not-for-profit and private sectors, and leading legal institutions. Her decades of experience in diverse contexts have been essential to the success of both the Clinic and the Committee. 

Among her responsibilities as the PBCS Committee Co-Chair, Karen has led fundraising efforts to bring in much needed funding to augment the limited available funds from AABANY’s general budget. Karen has also participated in the clinic as a volunteer attorney, taking on several clinic consultations a week regarding employment issues. Moreover, Karen dedicated time to bring on law student Jenna Agatep, from her alma mater Northeastern University School of Law, to help with Committee projects and assist Ms. Agatep with her scholarship application for the Asian American Law Fund of New York to support her work in the Clinic.

The NAPABA Pro Bono Award recognizes an attorney or a team of attorneys for outstanding achievements in pro bono service that (1) involved impact litigation to advance or protect civil rights or (2) provided direct legal services to individuals in the furtherance of the administration of justice. The subject matter and difficulty of the case(s) or matter(s) and time expended are factors considered in selecting the award recipient.

Through her exemplary leadership at AABANY as a co-chair of the PBCS Committee and a leader of the highly impactful Clinic, Karen has gone above and beyond the criteria of this award. Her profound contributions will continue to be felt as she brings much-needed, quality legal service to the underserved in the AAPI community.

Please join AABANY in congratulating Karen Yau on her well-deserved honor. Karen will be presented with the Pro Bono Award at NAPABA’s virtual awards ceremony held in December for all of the Awards recipients. To honor Karen, NAPABA made an award video highlighting her achievements and it will be distributed on NAPABA social media channels. To view the video, please visit the link below:

Co-Chair Karen Lin Published in Historical Society of the New York Courts blog for APA Heritage Month

Pro Bono and Community Service Committee co-chair Karen Lin writes about why we celebrate Asian Pacific Islander American Heritage Month for the Historical Society of the New York Courts blog.

The Historical Society of the New York Courts was founded in 2002 by then New York State Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye. Its mission is to preserve, protect and promote the legal history of New York, including the proud heritage of its courts and the development of the Rule of Law.

A first generation immigrant herself, Lin attempts to define what it means to be “Asian American,” noting that the term often groups a diverse collection of people into a single phrase. In actuality, she explains, there are a plethora of cultures, languages, religions, histories, and patterns of immigration within the umbrella term; perhaps what most strongly links Asian Americans to one another are the hardships they face.

“Asian Americans are often grouped together as an undifferentiated mass and many share the experience of being treated as perpetual foreigners who do not fully belong in America,” Lin writes. From the Bubonic Plague of the 1900s – when San Francisco’s Chinatown was quarantined – to the present day, when COVID-19 has propelled a new wave of anti-Asian xenophobia and racism, Asian Americans have historically faced people challenging their place in this country, Lin says.

The designation of May as Asian Pacific Islander American Heritage Month, then, is an homage to Asian Americans who often feel invisible. Lin explains that May was chosen to celebrate Asian American history to mark the anniversary of Japanese immigrants arriving in the US, and to acknowledge the contributions of Chinese workers in building the transcontinental railroad.

Lin embeds a powerful lesson in her article: Asian Americans will no longer accept being silenced, blamed, or overlooked. This month is only the first step on the journey ahead.

Thanks to Karen Lin for sharing these important thoughts on APA Heritage Month. To read the full blog post, click here.

Please Support AABANY’s Monthly Pro Bono Clinic

Dear AABANY Members,

Happy holidays!

In this season of giving, we count among our blessings being part of the great community that is the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY).  Our strongest asset is you, our members, and we are writing now to appeal to you for support of AABANY’s Monthly Pro Bono Clinic.

From its beginning, AABANY has sought to serve the community and to advocate for it. In that spirit, AABANY started the Monthly Pro Bono Legal Advice and Referral Clinic. By leveraging expertise and language skills of AABANY’s active and diverse membership, the Clinic effectively expands access to justice and provides the Asian American community a way to receive high-quality legal services that are also culturally sensitive and linguistically competent.

Working with community organizations, the Clinic in the last few years has provided hundreds of low-income clients with free legal advice.  These clients hail from all five boroughs, with some coming from as far as Yonkers, Long Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Most of these clients are monolingual Chinese and Japanese speakers. This fall the Clinic began to systematically incorporate Know-Your-Rights training on topics such as employment and housing law.

The dry facts do not adequately convey the Clinic’s importance to the Asian American community, especially in these trying times. Let us share with you some recent cases that exemplify typical clients and the routine problems they face:

  • An elderly woman and her son were being harassed and evicted by their landlord. The mother and her deceased spouse had raised her entire family in her apartment, and her son had spent his entire life there. The basis for the eviction was that they declined to sign leases that their landlord suddenly demanded after allowing this practice for nearly 40 years. We provided them with an understanding of the holdover process and referrals to pro bono counsel and lawyers who charge on a sliding scale.
  • A woman recently was seeking a divorce from her husband who held all of their assets and frequently threatened to kill her and himself, if she ever left him. A light bulb went off in her head during the consultation when she first recognized the signs of domestic violence and abuse in her situation. Because of this community member’s cultural upbringing, she would have never termed her marriage abusive. At the Clinic, we referred her to a legal services office that specializes in representing survivors of domestic violence.
  • Just last month, we counseled an employee whose employer broke its written promise of a specified salary. This employee began to suffer from anxiety and depression due to this work-related stress and sought treatment. The same employer not only declined to move her assignment closer to her home to accommodate her disability but it also publicly disclosed her mental health status to her colleagues in violation of the law.  

At these monthly sessions, we are often outraged by the reports of flagrant violations of the law. We are gratified that numerous AABANY members volunteer as pro bono lawyers for two hours once a month to bring access to justice to many community members who otherwise would have continued to bear the brunt of these injustices and illegalities, without recourse or effective assistance.

The Clinic can only operate with the generosity of donors and volunteers. During this holiday season, please consider supporting this vital project that is close to our hearts by donating to the Clinic. The Clinic has grown in the last year to the point that we are sometimes seeing nearly 50 clients in a short two-hour span. Your donations will help to pay for much needed administrative support and supplies that currently come out of the limited budget allocated to the Pro Bono and Community Service Committee that is charged with running the Clinic.

AABANY’s 501(c)(3) affiliate, the Asian American Law Fund of New York (AALFNY), is accepting charitable donations and can issue a tax receipt to you for your generous support. Any amount, large or small, would help, but if you can spare $25, $50, $100 or more, it would go a long way. The community members coming to the Clinic will greatly appreciate it!

When you go to the AALFNY website to make your donation, please be sure to indicate in the memo field that you are donating to the Pro Bono Clinic. Please take a moment today to visit this link and make a donation:

https://www.asianamericanlawfund.org/donate/

Best wishes to you and yours,

Yang Chen
Executive Director

Karen Kithan Yau
Pauline Yeung-Ha
Judy Ming Chu Lee
Asako Aiba

Co-Chairs, Pro Bono and Community Service Committee

Zombie Asian Moms at La MaMa

We are pleased to tell you about the World Premiere of Zombie Asian Moms at La MaMa, in New York City, November 29-Dec 9.  Use the discount code HELLOKITTY for a $5 discount on regular tickets.

This is a comedy/electric violin/spoken word/video piece based on oral history interviews with Asian American moms of all different backgrounds.

Find out more about Zombie Asian Moms here.

If you are interested in funding their work, go to indiegogo campaign here.

Meaningful Diversity: The Next Chapter of the ADR Story | New York Law Journal

Meaningful Diversity: The Next Chapter of the ADR Story | New York Law Journal

Thank you to our November Pro Bono Clinic Volunteers!

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November’s Monthly Pro Bono Clinic, held on Wednesday, November 14 at 3 Bowery Street in Confucius Plaza, brought out 13 lawyers and 9 interpreters who volunteered their time to help 29 clients:

Lawyers:

  • Christopher Chin
  • Sylvia Chin
  • Gaye L. Chun
  • Kelly Diep
  • Jonathan Hernandez
  • Mihea Kim
  • Beatrice Leong
  • Zhixian Liu
  • David Lu
  • Kwok Kei Ng
  • Annie Tsao
  • John Wu
  • Jessie Xian

Interpreters:

  • Satoshi Kurita
  • Derek Ting-Che Tai
  • Weiling Huang
  • Emily Xianxiao Li
  • Haoyi Deng
  • Vicky Qiuyan Zhao
  • Jessica Wang
  • Teresa Wai Yee Yeung
  • Eric W. Dang

Special thanks to Johnny Thach and Roger Chen for coordinating the clinic, Social Worker Ann Hsu, and the Pro Bono and Community Service Committee Co-Chairs Karen Kithan Yau, Ming Chu Lee, and Asako Aiba for their leadership.

If you are interested in volunteering at next month’s Pro Bono Clinic on December 12, please contact Asako Aiba at asako.aiba@aabany.org. AABANY’s Monthly Pro Bono Clinic occurs every second Wednesday from 6:30 to 8:30 PM.