Newsletter - Fall 2021
Touro Law's Clinical Program
Touro Law’s Clinical Program is ever-changing to meet the needs of students in full-time, part-time, and FlexTime programs as well as the landscape of law school and lawyering during these challenging times. What is of critical importance for each clinic is providing students with an opportunity to engage in hands-on learning while delving into specific areas of the law.
A Message from the Clinic Director, Melina Healey
We are very proud of the exciting work that students have been doing in our clinic program. This year we harnessed new technology and strategies that grew out of the pandemic to create several permanent fully remote clinics to serve our part-time and Flextime students who work during business hours and to provide services to clients who cannot access our offices. We developed novel mediation clinics to meet pandemic-related crises of evictions and child support disputes. And we founded the first-ever collaborative In-House Advanced Clinic, in which students from multiple clinic practices collaborate to work for clients and learn together. We look forward to continuing to innovate for our students and to provide excellent legal services to communities in need.
Among the many things I love about our clinic program that has not changed at all during the disruptions of the pandemic is that clinic students transition during our time together from our students to our genuine colleagues. I learn as much from them as they do from me as we work on cases together. The students have the disorienting but exhilarating experience of taking responsibility for their clients and it’s a wonderful process to be part of. Along the way they share insights and strategies that enrich our representation and expand my understanding of justice and good legal work. Equally important, I know our graduates have the capacity required to conquer real-world lawyering and share a commitment to social justice because of what they have gained in clinic.
While in the Education and Youth Justice Clinic, I had the opportunity to hone my research skills to benefit children and their families. I spent a lot of time researching and learning about the types of law we worked within the clinic as those areas of law were new to me. Professor Healey provided insight on how best to navigate the research on various issues, which can sometimes be overwhelming. I learned so much about these areas of the law and how to deal with clients directly. Through my experience, I also created and presented a training to a local social services agency to better assist their clients with special education proceedings.
Seeing the work I put into researching the law translate into helping people was inspiring. Also, I now feel confident that when I am working as a lawyer, I will be able to successfully research and learn about any given area of law to serve my clients to the best of my ability.
—Olivia Wade, 2L
Paralegal Students Gaining Real-World Experience
Touro’s Senior Citizens Law Program has hosted Paralegal students for the past two years in partnership with The Paralegal Studies Program at Suffolk County Community College.
Participating students are exposed to many of the issues our senior citizen client population face on a daily basis, including the need for Medicaid and Advance Directives, debt collection cases, housing needs, SNAP, Medicare and Social Security requirements, crimes against the elderly, and other general matters. The students work under the direction of Judith Lespinasse, Elder Law Paralegal/Gerontologist in the Senior Citizens Law Program.
“This partnership with Suffolk Community College has been enormously successful, and the model is unique to our clinic program,” says Clinic Director Melina Healey. “Clinic students develop skills for working with paralegals and recognition of the importance of their role in legal practice. We have welcomed the Suffolk students into our clinic home and they enjoyed participating in some of our clinic simulations. Judith Lespinasse is an incredible paralegal gerontologist, and has inspired several of the paralegal students to apply to Touro.”
Throughout the course, students had direct interaction with clients during the intake process, involving dialogue to find out what issue(s) the client is dealing with and how to proceed with seeking the appropriate outcome. Students were also provided with hypothetical case studies that require research, problem-solving, and critical thinking.
Prior to the pandemic, students were physically in the office. During the pandemic, meetings were held virtually twice a week. The students met in a large group meeting early in the week to plan and review case studies. Then the students would follow-up directly with their client(s) on intake forms and pending questions and issues. Students were also able to join Professor Lespinasse for additional virtual meetings that touched on a variety of matters.
Lespinasse stated, “The individual calls with clients were like on-the-job training sessions for these students, enabling them to hone client interaction skills while helping to solve real problems.” She continued, “It has been a rewarding experience to share my knowledge with such an enthusiastic group of students, many of whom will go on to careers in the legal profession.”
Education and Youth Justice Clinic - Keeping Up the Fight for Justice During a Pandemic
by Melina Healey, Clinic Director
In the Spring 2021 semester, the Touro Law Center Education and Youth Justice Clinic proceeded with its important work through a primarily virtual world of client communication and representation. We are committed to giving young people the opportunities they deserve. We assisted 10 young people in obtaining critical special education supports and services, in expunging their juvenile records, obtaining legal gender confirmations and a name change, and addressing the collateral consequences of their juvenile adjudications.
Our special education advocacy was particularly critical this year due to the toll that virtual education has taken on students with disabilities. We obtained dozens of school supports and services for our special education clients this semester, which we hope will offset gaps caused by the pandemic’s effect on their education.
One proud moment for the clinic involved work by clinic student Russell Vogel. Russell came to Touro with a passion for special education advocacy and a background in neuroscience, having studied the intersection of ADHD and Autism as part of his Master's degree in neuroscience at Stony Brook University. This special expertise was of benefit in his work on behalf of his client’s child. The client’s child, Dorothy*, is diagnosed with both disorders. Dorothy’s experience in school and her academic performance rapidly deteriorated this year due to her disabilities and the school’s refusal to accommodate her special needs. She was increasingly bullied and ostracized in school. Her complex mental health issues interfered with her strong intellectual promise. Russell represented his client in special education advocacy, including in a due process hearing, and was able to secure all of the evaluations, services, and supports that Dorothy’s parent wanted.
“From day one, I felt very passionate about trying to obtain a proper IEP for my client. While the law entitles all students to have a free and appropriate public education, the path to obtaining services can be a daunting process for the parents of children with disabilities. This is especially true when the district disagrees with what services a parent requests, as the parent has to argue the reasoning behind their requests at a CSE meeting. I feel so fortunate that I was able to use my research background to help my client, especially because it led to Dorothy getting services that will allow her to succeed in school. I came into law school with the desire to be a special education attorney, and my experience in the clinic has only solidified my decision to go into this field.”
Our clinic takes a multidisciplinary and holistic approach to client service. We have a social worker, current Touro JD candidate Tony Desire, who assists our clients. We also work with case managers from Mental Health and Wellness of Long Island to ensure that we fully understand our clients’ legal needs and that we address some of the mental health barriers to their success.
Congratulations to all involved!
*This name has been assigned for the purpose of storytelling.
Breaking Barriers Pro Bono Clinic Update
For the last 8 years, Touro Law has hosted the Breaking Barriers Pro Bono Project. The project is supported by Touro Law Center, the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County, and Nassau-Suffolk Law Services. Touro students, supervised by practicing attorneys, work with clients and help them obtain a copy of their unsuppressed NY RAP sheet (Report of Arrest and Prosecution) and FBI RAP sheets when deemed necessary for out-of-state charges, review them for mistakes, and then evaluate them for relief eligibility and help them apply for Certificates of Relief from Civil Disabilities and/or Certificates of Good Conduct and/or sealing motions.
In the Fall semester, this project was transformed to a virtual clinic on Sundays with preference given to students in our FlexTime program. Nine FlexTime students were enrolled in our inaugural clinic. Students work as Legal Aid interns and are assigned cases from the Breaking Barriers project as well as cases from former Legal Aid clients who seek sealing of old violation matters. Students gain knowledge of a nuanced area of the law that can have a great impact on the people who suffer “perpetual punishments” due to their prior court involvement. The students are assigned real client cases and handle them from intake through the possible resolution of the post-conviction relief they are entitled to seek.
The class concentrates on the post-conviction issues of collateral consequences that exist for the approximately 76 million people within the United States who have a criminal conviction and focus on whether the approximately 45,000 collateral consequences are in fact “collateral.” Although the Padilla case primarily dealt with the deportation issue related to immigration, expansion of the interpretation reveals that other collateral consequences should be considered when advising a client of the collateral consequences of their plea bargain or being found guilty after trial. Each class, students review the current laws and focus on the main issues of how criminal convictions can affect employment, educational licensing, housing, financial stability, and civic participation.
Criminal Prosecution Clinic
In addition to experiencing courtroom interactions with judges, defense attorneys, and prosecutors, students in the Criminal Prosecution Clinic have prepared Discovery responses in their assigned cases so that they are certified as ready for trial. In this process they are learning utilization of the Prosecutors Case Management System (PCMS) which is a cutting edge case management system used by law enforcement throughout New York State.
Holistic Criminal Defense Clinic
This clinic focuses on “Holistic Lawyering”- treating the whole client in a criminal case. Students learn about the concepts of holistic lawyering, interviewing and communication with the client, bail reform, integrating social work services to help clients navigate the court system, discovery reform and review, investigation, omnibus motion writing, mitigation, plea bargaining, trial prep, and collateral consequences.
The criminal defense portion of the class is currently a simulation. Students work on a class case, as well as be assigned their own case. The cases are real, previously closed cases of The Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County. Students handle their case from arraignment to conclusion in a simulation exercise throughout the semester. If we are able to allow students into the courtrooms (once the class begins or during the Spring semester), they will be paired with LAS attorneys and handle all aspects of the cases with their mentor attorney in court. There are opportunities for a "defense" court tour, as well as courtroom observations- if the courts continue to allow access.
The post-conviction portion includes REAL clients assisted remotely via phone/video consultations or in-person consultations if the clients meet the criteria for entry to the school. Students will work with the instructor and Breaking Barriers to help clients obtain their RAP sheets (Report of Arrest and Prosecution) from Albany, review and help correct potential errors, evaluate for post-conviction relief, and assist clients in applying for certificates of rehabilitation and sealing motions.
Senior Citizens Law Clinic
Students in the SCLC were extremely busy with landlord-tenant matters this past Fall, as both senior landlords and senior tenants are represented in the Clinic. Due to the moratorium, many cases had been in the system for a year or longer. We assisted clients in understanding the continually changing rules and protocols. We made many court appearances and expect that we will be representing clients in hearings challenging or defending hardship affidavits. This is a new type of hearing and we look forward to learning and expanding our skillset. We are also continuing our work in assisting clients with Community Medicaid applications and preparation of advance directives (Durable Powers of Attorney, Health Care Proxies and Living Wills). The pandemic has made it difficult to meet with senior clients and we are taking utmost precautions to keep our vulnerable clients safe. We have set up Zoom meetings and come up with other creative solutions. Our students are becoming proficient in interviewing clients and are learning drafting skills by working on letters, Orders to Show Cause, Affidavits and Summons and Complaints. At the end of November we conducted a mock trial, together with students in the Second Chance and Mediation Clinics. This is the first time that we were able to have the trial live in our school auditorium. It was a great learning experience for our students, several of whom graduated in December.
The year started out virtually, but it has been wonderful to have the students back in the building and to be able to teach the seminar class in-person. The students are learning a tremendous amount about what it means to represent senior clients, some of whom have no one else to advocate for them. The lessons go beyond the mechanics of the law. There have been several “ah-ha” moments that the students will take with them as they move on to practice outside the Clinic walls.
Veterans' & Servicemembers' Rights Clinic
The Veterans’ and Servicemembers’ Rights Clinic welcomes new leadership this semester. Robert Greenberg has been appointed Director and Touro alum Patrick Donohue is working with the clinic as well.
Robert Greenberg ran his own law practice for ten years and prior to that served as an assistant district attorney in New York City. He founded the Committee on Cannabis Law of the New York State Bar Association and he is a life member of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) Legal Committee. He is also a major in the New York Guard where he served as the staff judge advocate to Headquarters advising the commander on legal matters and was the commanding officer of the 7th Legal Assistance Detachment.
He states, “I am looking forward to his new role and working with students to assist veterans and servicemembers in our community. The work of this clinic is vital and I am proud to be a part of it while providing hands-on legal experience and exposure to veterans’ issues to Touro Law students.”
Patrick Donohue is an Army Veteran from the 101st Airborne who served from 2008-2012 and deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan from 2010 - 2011. Patrick found his passion for assisting other Veterans due to his own struggles with reintegration following his deployment. While recovering in the VA hospital he founded Project9line which is a volunteer-based not-for-profit organization located in Islip that empowers veterans with reintegration through the arts and activities.
Patrick went to Touro Law with the hopes of increasing his ability to help his fellow veterans. Patrick was hired as a fellow in the Veterans clinic for the summer of 2019 and was exposed to the vast realm of veterans law. It was during this time that Patrick found his true calling. After completing the summer fellowship Patrick was hired at a local law firm as a legal assistant working on 9/11 victim compensation fund and veterans disability claims and was also in the Veterans clinic as part of his studies for his last semester.
Soon after Patrick was sworn in as an attorney he left his firm and started his own firm focused on Veterans law and assisting Veterans with disability appeals, discharge upgrades, and real estate closings. Now he works with students in the Veterans clinic assisting with the cases and helping the students work with the veteran clients.
Patrick stated, “The Veterans clinic caseload consists primarily of discharge upgrades. A discharge upgrade client is a veteran who was discharged with an undesirable discharge such as anything less than an honorable discharge. Many post-service benefits are obtained based on receiving an honorable discharge. Assisting our clients and achieving a favorable discharge could have life-changing results for our clients and that’s what makes it so rewarding.”