Empire Mock Trial is a nonprofit that brings together extraordinary high school students. It started as a response to COVID-19 and has grown into a robust online mock trial competition program, accessible to any school with an internet connection. This fall, Empire Mock Trial is bringing together 750 high school students for both online and in-person programs. These remarkable young people need the support of the legal community.
Volunteer to serve as judges or jurors on September 24-27 or October 29-November 1 in the cloud (attorneys can judge one trial or multiple). Over the past year, they’ve worked hard to develop programs for their students that are fun, safe, and educational.
AABANY encourages its members to participate in the New York State Attorney Emeritus Program (AEP), a New York State Court system initiative through which senior attorneys offer pro bono civil legal service. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, New Yorkers are in urgent need of legal assistance. Our membership is acutely aware that COVID-19 has not only severely exacerbated anti-Asian hate but also highlighted the reluctance to prosecute anti-Asian hate crimes; more broadly, COVID-19 has widened and drawn attention to the civil justice gap in New York State. Volunteering through AEP could be life-altering for New Yorkers in need, whether they are struggling with housing, consumer debt and bankruptcy, access to unemployment and subsistence benefits, end-of-life planning, and domestic matters, among other issues. AEP, helmed by former Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and endorsed by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, presents a substantive opportunity for AABANY members to give back and look out for its New York community.
To volunteer, AEP seeks lawyers aged fifty-five or older, retired or still in practice, in good standing, and with ten years experience. Attorney Emeritus volunteers commit to performing 60 hours of pro bono work with an approved legal services organization or court program over the two-year attorney registration period.
Attorney Emeritus volunteers also receive benefits including up to 15 CLE credits and special recognition from Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Justice Initiatives Edwina G. Mendelson.
Now, more than ever, students at New York City’s public schools are grappling with questions of inequality and whether the law is the same as justice. Legal Outreach’s Mentoring Program allows attorneys and law school graduates to directly impact high school students from traditionally under-represented backgrounds by guiding them through high school and modeling what it means to be an attorney and to engage with the law – and allows attorneys to consider these questions, too! You and the members of Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) are invited to apply now to volunteer to be a Mentor, starting the 2021-22 academic year! Attorneys meet with their students once a month to get to know each other and discuss any issues and obstacles students are facing. Mentors, with materials provided by Legal Outreach, also help students through Legal Outreach’s Constitutional Law Debate Program. In Debate, students learn and apply Supreme Court precedent to issues directly affecting the country, such as qualified immunity, political apparel at polling sites, education rights for undocumented students, gerrymandering and voting rights, discrimination in housing developments, and more. To be a Mentor, a volunteer needs just their JD and the ability to commit to 4-6 hours a month to meet and communicate with their student. It is a low-time, high-impact program that will help shape the course of a young person’s life and make the legal profession a more inclusive one. It is so important for our students to be able to see a model of what they can do with a law degree and see themselves represented in the profession. Apply here by August 15, 2021 to be a Mentor starting the 2021-22 academic year!
AABANY extends its thanks to all members of the Columbia Law School community who participated in the CLS-AABANY Pro-Bono Caravan. The Spring Caravan was a weeklong volunteer effort from March 1 through 5 in which law students partnered with AABANY’s remote clinic to update AABANY’s COVID-19 resource pages, participate in client consultations with volunteer attorneys, and engage in research on consumer debt/foreclosure, immigration, housing, employment, and family law in New York. Through translating both AABANY’s COVID-19 materials and remote clinic intake calls, participating students made COVID-related information more accessible to laypeople, particularly those from minority and low-income backgrounds. The Caravan also offered students many professional development and networking opportunities in the form of an AABANY mentorship program, a meet and greet with the Pro Bono and Community Service Committee, and lunch with AABANY Student Leaders.
Please see the flyer below for the list of participating students, their reflections on the Pro-Bono Caravan, and the participating attorney mentors. We thank all Caravan participants for their desire to give back to the community and look forward to continuing the fight for equal justice as a team.
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.
Empire Mock Trial is a nonprofit that brings together extraordinary high school students from across the U.S. plus 6 countries. Over the past 6 months, the nonprofit has worked hard to plan a mock trial program for them that is fun, safe, and educational during the age of COVID-19 — this fall, it is finally happening.
Volunteer to judge a mock trial on October 28-31 or November 14-16 (attorneys can judge one trial or multiple). All trials will be held online via Zoom. For most of the students, this is the first time they’ve been able to participate in mock trial in 2020, with COVID having canceled their last season.
The format of each trial depends on which competition you sign-up to judge. Here is a description of each:
Empire @ Home on October (28-31) – students compete from the comfort of their own homes (i.e. you’ll see 12-14 students separately connect to your virtual courtroom). It’s called ‘Empire Chicago’ because we are hosting Chicago themed events for the kids;
Empire One (November 14-16) – one mock trial team assembles in one room to compete against another team (i.e. you’ll see only 2 teams separately connect to your virtual courtroom). It’s called ‘Empire New York’ because we are hosting New York themed events for the kids.
Attorneys can earn up to 3 CLE credits for judging.
If you have any questions, please reach out to Empire Mock Trial via phone or email on their website.
Legal Outreach prepares youth from underserved communities in New York City to compete at high academic levels by using intensive legal and educational programs as tools for fostering vision, developing skills, enhancing confidence, and facilitating the pursuit of higher education. We use law to attract rising high school students to academic programs that inspire and motivate them to strive for academic success.
About the Mentoring Program:
Legal Outreach’s Mentoring Program allows attorneys and law school graduates to directly impact high school students from traditionally under-represented backgrounds by guiding them through high school and modeling what it means to be an attorney and to engage with the law – and allows attorneys to consider these questions, too!
Attorneys meet with their students once a month to hang out and talk about the issues and obstacles students are facing. Mentors, with materials provided by Legal Outreach, also help students through the Constitutional Law Debate Program. In Debate, students learn and apply Supreme Court precedent to issues directly affecting the country, such as qualified immunity, which weapons are protected under the Second Amendment, education rights for undocumented students, gerrymandering and voting rights, discrimination in housing developments, and more.
Legal Outreach’s Mentoring Program is an integral tool for helping our students achieve academic success, and is a low cost, high reward volunteer activity. Mentoring a Legal Outreach student only takes around 4-6 hours per month and is a 3 year commitment (mentors work with students from their Sophomore year through Senior year). Mentors help students with their Constitutional Law Debates, guide them academically, and inspire them by providing one-on-one support throughout their high school careers and even after mentees matriculate to college. JD is required. Mentors can also receive 3 CLE Credits per reporting cycle.
“My mentor is very supportive of my accomplishments and hard work. He’s always willing to talk about any problems and to teach me anything new.” Legal Outreach Student
“I have recommended the program to numerous friends, I think Legal Outreach is a fantastic program and I am happy to be involved.” Legal Outreach Mentor
On Friday, July 3, 2020, the Pro Bono and Community Service Committee of the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) launched a flyering campaign to promote the new Remote Pro Bono Legal Clinic in Chinatown and Koreatown. The event was organized by William Lee, Associate at Alston & Bird and an active member of the Pro Bono Committee. The goal of the campaign was to ensure that Asian American small businesses had access to the Pro Bono Clinic’s various resources during this time of great need. Many law students from local APALSAs, including Fordham, Cardozo, and Columbia, volunteered at the start of the 4th of July holiday weekend to assist in distributing the flyers to local businesses.
The Chinatown volunteers were led by Dianna Lam and May Wong, frequent volunteers for the Pro Bono Clinic, and those in Koreatown were led by Will Lee. Both campaigns were very successful, and Dianna Lam and May Wong were even interviewed for the “Around the Boroughs” segment of Spectrum News NY1. Dianna and May emphasized the importance of the Remote Pro Bono Legal Clinic, especially for smaller businesses impacted by COVID-19. Both groups ended the day with a volunteer appreciation lunch at the West New Malaysian Restaurant on Bowery Street. The group was able to sit at tables set up outside the restaurant, spaced out so that they could maintain a social distance.
We thank the Pro Bono Committee members, including Will Lee, Dianna Lam, and May Wong, for their leadership during this campaign. We also thank the students and volunteers who took the time to help the Remote Clinic reach more individuals and businesses in need of legal information. The Pro Bono Committee will be organizing similar campaigns in Flushing, Queens and Bay Ridge, so if you are interested in volunteering, please add your name to this document. Read AABANY’s press release about the Remote Pro Bono Clinic here. For more information on the Pro Bono Committee, see https://www.aabany.org/page/117. To find out more about AABANY’s pro bono resources, visit aabany.org/probono.
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:
Hon. John Z. Wang, a proud member of AABANY, has launched his own campaign to run for New York City Civil Court in the First Municipal Court District, which covers Battery Park, Chinatown, FiDi, Greenwich Village, Soho, Tribeca, and Two Bridges. An active contributor to the Judiciary Committee of AABANY, Judge Wang has organized panels on how to become an appointed and elected judge in hopes of encouraging more Asian American and Pacific Islander lawyers to pursue this path. Now, he hopes to make his community proud by becoming the first Asian American Civil Court Judge elected to the First District.
Judge Wang immigrated to the United States at five years old and grew up in a predominantly working-class Italian American neighborhood in Brooklyn. As one of very few Asian Americans in his community, he recognized the dangers of racism and bigotry and the importance of respecting other cultures and races.
The Judge has devoted his entire career to public service. After graduating from Vassar College and Brooklyn Law School, he received a six-month fellowship to work at Legal Services, where he advocated for claimants of unemployment insurance. Subsequently, he served as a court attorney in Brooklyn Family Court and the Bronx and Manhattan Civil Courts, and clerked for Hon. Anthony Cannataro, a New York State Supreme Court Justice and the Administrative Judge of the New York City Civil Court. Last year, Judge Wang was appointed as a Brooklyn Housing Court Judge. In all his years serving in New York’s courts, he has also contributed to policy-making by helping to restructure parts of the Manhattan Civil Court.
Now, Judge Wang hopes to serve as the first Asian American Civil Court Judge elected to the First Judicial District. Judge Wang views the Civil Court as the people’s court–it serves everyday people with real, working-class issues. He is moved by the stories and individuals that these small claims and credit card disputes represent, and hopes to do his part to deliver justice to everyday people.
Judge Wang also maintains a reputation for treating individuals that come before him with dignity, compassion, and fairness. As the only sitting judge in this contested race, Judge Wang understands the weight of making difficult decisions regarding people’s livelihoods.
AABANY’s Judiciary Committee vetted Judge Wang for his appointment to Housing Court in 2017 and found him highly qualified and well-suited for the role. The Committee noted that “[t]he advocates and judges that encounter Mr. Wang in the courthouse uniformly praise his intellect, work ethic and demeanor.” After more than two years on the bench, Committee Co-Chair Will Wang (no relation) observed: “It is somewhat uncommon for a relatively recent judge to have published the number of opinions Judge Wang has published. To me, this demonstrates both Judge Wang’s work ethic and overall writing ability.”
Judge Wang believes he faces a tough but winnable campaign. The COVID-19 pandemic has created serious challenges, including uncertainty in voter turnout and participation, but he hopes that his experience working in Civil Court will inspire individuals to volunteer and vote for him.