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/

AABANY Relaunches Pro Bono Clinic Remotely to Assist Asian Pacific American Community

During this period of upheaval caused by the evolving Covid-19 pandemic, the Asian American Bar Association of New York (“AABANY”) will be reopening its pro bono legal clinic in a remote capacity to continue aiding the Asian Pacific American community with legal issues including: immigration, housing, employment, family, and elder law. To promote the remote clinic as well as other rich resources relating to the Covid-19 pandemic that AABANY has developed, student volunteers will be going door-to-door this Friday, July 3, to share informational flyers with Asian neighborhood small businesses and residents in Manhattan and Queens.

AABANY’s Pro Bono Legal Clinic opened in 2015 to serve members of the Asian Pacific American community who have limited English proficiency (“LEP”) so that they can have meaningful access to justice. Mobilizing the skills and experience of AABANY’s diverse membership, the Pro Bono and Community Service Committee has spearheaded the Clinic’s effort in helping nearly 2,000 LEP individuals in the vast yet underserved Asian American community in New York through its Clinics in Manhattan’s Chinatown and Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge neighborhoods. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, AABANY’s walk-in clinic hours unfortunately had been suspended indefinitely. However, individuals from the Asian Pacific American community can now call and request remote assistance from volunteer attorneys by phone.

Student volunteers from the Asian Pacific American Law Student Associations (“APALSAs”) of NYU, Brooklyn Law, Cardozo, Columbia, CUNY Law, Hofstra, New York Law School, St. John’s, Fordham, Cornell, and Harvard have been working hard to promote the clinic and AABANY’s compilation of Covid-19 related resources via social media and email through their networks and community contacts. On Friday, July 3, they will go into the neighborhoods of Chinatown, Koreatown, Woodside, and Elmhurst to directly get the information out to the community.

“During these unprecedented times, there is a tremendous need for free legal assistance.  Many cannot even afford to meet their basic needs and yet they still face many legal issues with nowhere to turn. I applaud the Asian American Bar Association of New York for offering this much needed service to the immigrant community and the community at large,” says New York Committeewoman Sandra Ung, who in March was set to open the Queens expansion of the Pro Bono Clinic in Downtown Flushing until the shutdown was announced.

“The serious challenges brought on by COVID-19 have severely impacted the APA community in New York,” states AABANY President Sapna Palla. “AABANY’s Pro Bono Clinic has served the APA community for many years before COVID-19 with competent legal services and information, overcoming linguistic, cultural and financial barriers. AABANY is pleased to be able to continue the vital work of the Pro Bono Clinic through remote operations, with proper regard for the health and safety of our community members, so that we can continue assisting them with their legal issues during these unprecedented times.”

See the flyer below for more information and how to contact the clinic for assistance. Check out https://www.aabany.org/page/covid19 for additional resources.

AABANY’s Pro Bono Committee Hosts a Remote Clinic Introduction Meeting

On Thursday June 4th, AABANY held a virtual introduction meeting for its Pro Bono Legal Advice and Referral Clinic. Since 2015, the Clinic provided in-person consultation to those with legal questions in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens on a walk-in basis or by appointment. Due to COVID-19, these operations have been suspended.  In order to continue serving community needs, the Pro Bono Clinic is transitioning to a remote clinic by setting up a telephone hotline for volunteer attorneys to provide legal information and referrals to all individuals. 

Judy Lee, Pro Bono Committee Co-Chair, and May Wong, a Pro Bono Clinic volunteer, led the meeting and discussed logistical concerns, such as how attorneys will be paired with the callers, the intake forms to maintain records, and the coordination of language interpretation. This will be a challenge during unprecedented times.

Judy and May also focused on confidentiality, how volunteers can best assist callers by being understanding and respectful, and how to use IRAC to answer the questions. They posed a housing and COVID-19 related hypothetical of whether a tenant who moved out from the apartment without providing 30 days’ notice to the landlord can recover his or her security deposit. After presenting the question at hand, they provided sample responses to show that many attorneys may have different approaches in solving the problem but at the same time the tenant is directed to the proper forum to seek relief.

The volunteers may not always know the answers to the caller’s issue but AABANY provides experienced coordinators, training materials, and CLEs to help. For example, such information can be found at: 

Anti Asian Violence – Know Your Rights:

COVID-19 Small Business Relief:

AABANY Covid-19 Resources: https://www.aabany.org/page/648

If you were unable to attend the meeting, you can view the recorded session at https://youtu.be/9FSmNG_Vfxw. We strongly encourage you to consider joining the Remote Clinic.

Please contact probono@aabany.org for more information. To learn more about the Pro Bono and Community Service Committee visit https://www.aabany.org/page/117.