Seward & Kissel’s Pro Bono Initiative is designed to allow our attorneys to give back to the community by providing needed advice and counsel to those who would otherwise lack representation. We are proud and privileged to work with individuals and organizations on a broad spectrum of matters including: domestic violence and matrimonial issues; urban poverty employment matters; elder law; civil rights; immigration; working with start-up nonprofit agencies; and representation of the oldest and largest seafarer’s agency in the United States. We provide help where it is most needed. We make pro bono activities a commonplace part of our office environment. Updates of available matters are routinely circulated. We encourage both litigation and corporate attorneys to take on matters that are important to the community as well as to them. We introduce pro bono work to our attorneys early in their careers including during our summer associate program. We trust that the early introduction to pro bono efforts will instill in our attorneys a commitment to integrating such work into their professional lives. Our attorneys have dedicated thousands of hours annually to pro bono initiatives. Such efforts necessarily have a direct impact on the communities in which we live and work, as well as provide our attorneys with a hands-on learning experience that is remarkable.
The following are highlights of our pro bono efforts:
Her Justice: Seward & Kissel is a Corporate Partner of HerJustice, a nonprofit organization which offers free legal services to low-income women in matrimonial, family and immigration law matters, many of whom are victims of domestic violence. We provide both financial support to help fund HerJustice’s daily operations, as well as a substantial amount of time rendering legal counsel. In the past several years, we have partnered with HerJustice and staffed matters with attorneys as well as summer associates. Our attorneys have successfully represented domestic violence victims in cases involving orders of protection, divorce, custody, child support, spousal maintenance, asylum, nonimmigrant visas, work authorization, and permanent residency. HerJustice selected a Seward & Kissel associate to receive its John Geiger Award as part of its Commitment to Justice Awards, and selected Seward & Kissel for its Law Firm of the Year Award. Pro bono partner Jack Yoskowitz was a recipient of HerJustice’s Commitment to Justice, Partner Award.
Asylum Work: Seward & Kissel attorneys received a Pro Bono Star Award from Human Rights First in recognition of the efforts they expended in obtaining asylum for their immigration pro bono client. Human Rights First gives the Pro Bono Star award to attorneys who demonstrate extraordinary commitment to the cases for asylum or related forms of immigration protection that they take on a pro bono basis through their program.
Veterans Assistance Project of the City Bar Justice Center: Seward & Kissel represents veterans in various proceedings. We recently represented a Gulf War-era Marine veteran. In addition to securing a disability ratings increase from 60% to 80%, and after two remands from the Board of Veterans Appeals, the VA granted a request to retroactively (2016) deem our client “individually unemployable” (TDIU). As a result of this decision, our client is entitled to the same benefits from the VA as a veteran with a 100% disability rating. It is generally very difficult to win an unemployability claim; however, as a result of the hard work of our team, our client is now entitled to close to $40,000/year in tax free benefits from the VA that will help her care for herself and her family, which more than doubles her previous entitlement. In addition, our client’s child now qualifies for Dependents Educational Assistance (an additional $12,000 in annual benefits).
Veterans Advocacy Project through NYCLA and the Urban Justice Center: Seward & Kissel provides legal assistance to certain veterans who received a less than honorable discharge with an appeal of their discharge status.
NYCLA’s Social Security Disability Benefits Project: Seward & Kissel attorneys represent plaintiffs whose applications for Social Security disability benefits or Supplemental Security Income were denied by the Social Security Administration. Our attorneys prepare opposition briefs in response to motions for judgment on the pleadings filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. We have won two cases where the Magistrate Judge remanded back to the SSA for a further hearing and one where the U.S. Attorney’s office agreed to remand after our attorney filed her brief in opposition.
New York Legal Assistance Group: Seward & Kissel has worked with the New York Legal Assistance Group (“NYLAG”), a nonprofit law office dedicated to providing free legal services in civil law matters to low-income New Yorkers. Through NYLAG, our attorneys have represented New York City public school students in their efforts to receive educational therapies consistent with their respective Individualized Education Programs.
Urban Justice Center: Seward & Kissel has worked with the Urban Justice Center (“UJC”), an organization focused on assisting the underserved through a combination of direct legal services, systemic advocacy, community education and political organizing. We have worked with the UJC on various matters including: successfully litigating a wage and hour dispute under federal and state law on behalf of former employees of a New York City restaurant; defending tenants’ succession rights to rent-stabilized units in eviction proceedings; representing construction workers in connection with the enforcement of a judgment against their former employer; and, providing research and consulting on affordable housing issues, as well as other matters.
New York Lawyers for the Public Interest: Seward & Kissel is a Pro Bono Donor for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (“NYLPI”), a nonprofit, civil rights law firm that strives for social justice through impact litigation, systemic reform, community organizing and advocacy. We provide both financial support to help NYLPI fund its daily operations and have worked in partnership with NYLPI on various matters, including NYLPI’s Community Oversight of Policing Project, the opposition of a jail siting in the Bronx, and conditions at Rikers.
The City Bar Justice Center’s Immigrant Justice Project: Seward & Kissel has worked with The City Bar Justice Center’s Immigrant Justice Project, which provides immigration advice and legal assistance to those in need. Our attorneys have staffed clinics, and have assisted in the cancellation of removal cases as well as other matters.
Phoenix House: Seward & Kissel worked with Phoenix House, a nonprofit alcohol and drug abuse treatment and prevention facility with locations throughout the country and more than thirty residential and outpatient programs in New York State. Our attorneys represented Phoenix House before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and in federal court in connection with lawsuits filed by former employees.
Seamen’s Church Institute: Seward & Kissel works with the Seamen’s Church Institute (“SCI”), the oldest and largest seafarer’s agency in the United States. Our attorneys provide legal assistance in a variety of areas, including nonprofit governance issues, contracts for SCI’s seafarer training facilities, retirement plan issues, employment law counseling, insurance, real estate advice and numerous other corporate and litigation matters. For our efforts, our Firm has been named a “Contributing In-Kind Sponsor” of SCI.
Seafarers & International House: Seward & Kissel works with the Seafarers & International House, the largest maritime ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which supports and cares for seafarers and sojourners from all over the world. Our attorneys represented the Seafarers & International House before the New York State Division of Human Rights, successfully defending it against an employment discrimination claim filed by a former employee.
Human Rights Watch: Seward & Kissel works with Human Rights Watch, one of the world’s leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights around the world. Our attorneys assist Human Rights Watch with various trademark and copyright matters.
The Kings County District Attorney’s Office, Appellate Division: Seward & Kissel has worked with the Appellate Division of the Kings County District Attorney’s Office. Our attorneys have written briefs and presented oral arguments on behalf of the D.A.’s office in appeal cases of convicted defendants.
The Southern District of New York Pro Se Office: Seward & Kissel works with the Southern District of New York Pro Se Office, which assists pro se litigants. Our attorneys assist the Pro Se Office with various matters, including the representation of incarcerated prisoners, many of whom allege constitutional violations including claims of excessive force or deprivation of medical treatment.
Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts: Seward & Kissel works with Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, an organization that delivers legal services and legal information to more than 10,000 members of the arts community each year. Our attorneys successfully represented a writer seeking to identify and protect her rights to a television pilot that she had authored.
St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church: Seward & Kissel worked with St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church, a church that has called Brooklyn home since 1898. Our attorneys represented them in connection with various contractual matters.
Collective for Community, Culture and the Environment: Seward & Kissel worked with the Collective for Community, Culture and the Environment, a collective of women professionals working on economic resilience, cultural diversity, public health, social justice, and environmental sustainability projects for low- and moderate-income residents and communities, advising on various legal issues.
The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund partners with law firms and corporate law departments to provide pro bono legal name change services to low-income transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary people through its Name Change Project. By providing transgender people with legal representation, Seward & Kissel works to ensure that people successfully complete the name change process and move forward with their lives.