Archive for February, 2021
When people need legal assistance, they often look to big lawyers and law firms first. However, it isn’t just big powerful lawyers who are out there helping people when they need some help. There are also a lot of legal organizers that are more focused on helping than profiting.
One such organization is Her Justice, which is based in New York City. Their main focus is justice for women living in poverty, which positions them as a very different sort of legal organization than most. They focus on outright and assistance and have a specific focus when accepting clients.
In addition to their normal mission, Her Justice also takes on initiatives that align with their broader goals. There may be more than 1.3 million lawyers in the U.S., but there aren’t many that can do what Her Justice does.
Who is Her Justice? What Kinds of Lawyers are They?
Her Justice is a group of legal advocates who provide free legal services to low-income women in the New York City area. This is not a typical law firm, however. Her Justice is a nonprofit organization. They work with volunteer attorneys to try to help women who need legal assistance.
This is key to Her Justice’s mission and outlook. They are trying to help women who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford an attorney, help that can in many cases be life-changing.
The idea for Her Justice came about when Cathy Douglass, serving on the board of a domestic violence nonprofit, found that her organization couldn’t handle the volume of legal requests they got from women. She used her connections among lawyers and firms to try to rectify this problem by creating a group that could help women pro bono.
This was in 1993 and the “Network for Women’s Services” quickly formed a board of directors. They managed to help 70 women in their first year while developing the pro bono model that would guide their decisions and legal approach going forward.
The mission grew over time. In the second year, 1994, they launched a pro se divorce pilot program. By 1996 they had a sexual harassment clinic and hired their first staff attorney. By 2002 they launched a program for undocumented immigrants in need of legal assistance and changed their name.
The year 2003 was a milestone for Her Justice. In that 10-year time span, they managed to help 5,000 women and children. In 2018 they got to celebrate 25 years of offering legal services to women in New York City, as well as expanding and deepening their mission.
From that simple initial idea, Her Justice has transformed. They now work with corporate partners and other law firms that enable them to offer a broad spectrum of legal help to women. Even so, the staff of the organization is small, at just 35 people. That includes a direct, 12 staff attorneys, three legal assistants, and two pro bono coordinators.
Because Her Justice tries to reach as many women as they can, they have 14 people on staff who can speak Spanish, and other staff members who speak Italian, Hindi, Russian, Portuguese, French, Korean, Urdu, and Romanian.
Their lawyers might come from anywhere, from a personal injury lawyer who wants to do pro bono work as well to law students looking for internships. They get their funding through private individuals, corporations, foundations, and law firms who help them offer help to women who need legal assistance.
What is Their Mission?
At first, Her Justice had a more narrow mission, but today they offer a broader spectrum of legal services. One of their stated missions is simply to help people navigate the legal system and ensure they are represented in court. So many people can’t afford a lawyer and it can have a serious impact on their life.
For example, those who appear in immigration court without a lawyer usually are unable to defend themselves. Only 13% of people are successful without a lawyer. The same is true with child support. Women who appear without a lawyer in family court might get just $25 per month for their whole family, the minimum. This minimum is commonly awarded to women who appear in court without some sort of legal assistance.
This is why the mission of Her Justice is so critical. Even when the law is supposed to help people, it often won’t if folks don’t have legal representation. This can be difficult or even outright impossible for people who are low-income, leading to worse outcomes in an already bad situation. Getting legal help from a group like Her Justice can dramatically improve their outcomes in court and the legal system.
However, Her Justice is not only trying to help individuals who need legal assistance. As they have grown over time, they’ve also taken on the broader mission of addressing wider issues within the justice system. Her Justice now looks at the system barriers that might prevent certain people from getting justice, such as poverty. Pointing out and addressing this kind of inequality has become part of the organization’s mission, alongside helping those who need legal assistance.
This mission is far broader than just offering legal help. It could touch everything from domestic violence to immigration law to workplace law. Even workers compensations lawyers might find ways to help the organization, as Her Justice looks even at the implications that domestic violence and immigration could have on jeopardizing people’s jobs.
It is all part of a broader outlook seeking justice for those underserved and often left behind by the system. Employees’ rights intersect with immigrants’ rights and women’s rights. The system is intricate and interwoven and that is exactly the sort of thing Her Justice seeks to help people untangle, especially those most vulnerable to being taken advantage of.
Who Do They Serve?
Broadly speaking, Her Justice serves low-income women in New York City. However, some specific trends appear when looking at the breakdown of their client base.
While every single one of Her Justice’s clients are women living in poverty who need legal assistance, they come from all five boroughs of New York City. This is due to Her Justice’s network of contacts throughout the city. This includes places like hospitals and clinics, courts, churches, legal and social services agencies, shelters, and other locations where low-income women might run up against the legal system. Places like shelters and churches help Her Justice reach clients in need of help with family law.
Despite this wide net, there are still some boroughs that have a higher concentration of Her Justice’s clients. Queens, the most ethnically diverse county in the U.S., also has 31% of Her Justice’s clients. The Bronx, the poorest NYC borough, has another 22%. Those two boroughs alone account for more than half of Her Justice’s clients.
Among the other boroughs: Brooklyn has 28% of Her Justice’s clients, Manhattan 15%, and Staten Island 2%. There is an additional 2% from other areas of New York City.
Her Justice also serves an ethnically diverse client base. Most of their clients are Hispanic (54%). However, another 25% of clients are Black, 10% are white, 9% are Asian or Pacific Islander, and 2% are Native American.
And these women come from all types of backgrounds. More than half (61%) of Her Justice’s clients were born outside of the U.S. Most (71%) are also mothers, which makes the need for family law especially important. Unfortunately, a huge majority (80%) are survivors of intimate partner violence.
Given these statistics, the breakdown of services Her Justice provides comes as little surprise. A large part of their work (45%) is devoted to helping with immigration. This is another reason Her Justice’s civil rights lawyers and immigration services are so important. This system can ensnare people who are new to the country and often at a steep disadvantage trying to navigate the legal system.
Besides immigration, Her Justice also offers matrimonial services (31%) and family law services (24%). These services are crucial for low-income women who are mothers.
With all of these clients and services who need legal assistance, Her Justice tries to provide comprehensive help to all of their clients. They have partners stationed in all five of NYC’s Family Justice Centers (one in each borough). This allows them to reach out to clients who need help for family law, abuse, immigration, and more.
In addition to appearing in the Family Justice Centers, Her Justice also operates a legal helpline so that potential clients can call them for help. All someone needs to do to qualify for help is identify as a woman, live in one of New York City’s boroughs, meet their income guidelines, and require assistance with family, divorce, or immigration law.
For those who qualify, Her Justice will help with things like child custody and visitation, child support, divorce, protection orders, and immigration issues. They provide legal information, brief services, and volunteer attorneys so that people don’t have to appear in court without representation.
What are Some of Her Justice’s Initiatives?
Her Justice has two big initiatives at the moment. One of them is the Marital Debt Project, which aims to advocate for women who need economic justice due to divorce, domestic abuse, or debt.
This initiative is vital for women going through a divorce. Her Justice can provide divorce attorneys to represent women in court while they go through a divorce. When someone is already in debt or low-income, going through a divorce can make that exponentially worse. Often, debts are split between both parties in a divorce, meaning a woman could leave with a ton of debt she didn’t have initially.
Legal help is the best way to deal with this kind of issue. An abusive partner who has trapped someone in a bad situation, perhaps by withholding income or stealing their identity, can completely change how a divorce plays out – if one has legal counsel.
The issue of debt and divorce are so often interlinked. More than 1 in 3 women receiving legal help related to domestic abuse also have debt issues they need legal help with. These issues can exacerbate each other, trapping people in cycles of debt and abuse that they find it impossible to escape from.
So far, this initiative has helped more than 250 people, providing direct representation on 20 legal cases and running credit reports for 52 clients. It has also educated 89 community members through things such as workshops and trained 166 people at partner organizations so they too could help those who need legal assistance.
Another initiative for the organization is the Immigrant Survivor Employment Access Project. This is aimed at providing help for those who need legal assistance as immigrants and survivors of gender-based violence. The goal is to get them the correct documents so they can access the job market and find economic success and stability in their lives.
As with the other initiative, bankruptcy services and other economic services are a necessary part of the larger picture. These kinds of hurdles can represent systemic barriers that prevent immigrants and others from upward mobility and leave those populations vulnerable.
This initiative can help immigrants gain a safer living environment, a higher weekly income, and better working conditions. It can also empower them to advocate for themselves when a work or home environment is not safe.
This is a key tenant of all the work Her Justice does for those who need legal assistance. Their initiatives fit into their larger goals and ideals. Often, someone might think that they just need a personal injury attorney or a bankruptcy attorney, or a family law attorney. However, in reality, these issues are often inextricably linked in a way that they cannot be disentangled.
By taking a comprehensive view of these kinds of issues, Her Justice is able to empower people at a systemic disadvantage and help them achieve better situations in all aspects of their lives. Legal assistance can truly make the difference between someone being trapped in a dangerous situation where they are held down by poverty and legal barriers and someone changing their life for the better. This is Her Justice’s overall mission and what they have helped so many achieve by providing help to those who need legal assistance but may not ordinarily have access to those services.