November 15, 2012
On Monday, October 22, 2012, New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman delivered the keynote address at a ribbon cutting celebration marking the opening of CUNY Law’s new home in Long Island City. “We were delighted that Chief Judge Lippman joined us to mark this special moment in the Law School’s history,” said CUNY School of Law Dean Michelle J. Anderson. “As chief judge, he has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to increasing access to justice for poor people, which mirrors our mission as a public interest institution.”
The program took place in the Dave Fields Auditorium, where Anderson, CUNY Board of Trustees Chairperson Benno Schmidt, and CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein welcomed nearly 200 guests. Guests included faculty, staff, and students, along with alumni, members of the judiciary, elected officials, and friends of the Law School.
Queens Borough President Helen M. Marshall issued a proclamation declaring October 22, 2012, “CUNY Law School Day,” and Anderson presented Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown and Congressman Joseph Crowley with Dean’s Awards for their longtime support for the Law School.
The following is an excerpt of Chief Judge Lippman’s address.
“Over the last weeks, I have traveled around New York for hearings on the unmet need for civil legal services in our state.
This year, we heard again and again that the gap between the need for legal services and the resources available dramatically affects the lives of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens. The sad reality is that the direct legal and human fallout from our nation’s and our state’s economic problems has brought us a growing number of the poor, the working poor, and the near poor confronting legal problems involving the necessities of life: the roof over their heads, their physical safety, their livelihoods, and the well-being of their families. Our courts are the emergency rooms for the ills of society, and today our courtrooms are standing room only, filled with vulnerable and frightened unrepresented litigants.
We cannot let real people and their families fall off a cliff in these troubled times because they cannot afford legal representation. It is morally and ethically wrong, and makes no economic sense. For every public dollar invested in civil legal services for the poor, five dollars are returned to the state by enabling people to pay their bills, preventing unwarranted evictions and homelessness, avoiding foster care placements and other service costs, and bringing federal entitlement dollars to New York.
Every society is ultimately judged by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. And for the legal profession, the academy, and the judiciary, we should be judged by whether we provide meaningful legal representation for the poor, particularly when the essentials of life are at stake. If we fail in this most basic of our obligations, we become easy prey for those who seek to undermine the justice system and the rule of law.
New York’s new 50-hour pro bono requirement for applicants to the bar emerges in the context of the unmet need for legal services for the poor in our state and nation. We need a new generation of lawyers to embrace a culture of service to others if we are to meet the critical need for access to legal services for the poor. Students and alumni of CUNY Law School, this great institution, play such an enormous role in serving the disadvantaged. You lead law schools nationwide, bar none, in your devotion to public service.
I want all of us in New York to live up to the public service work that CUNY Law students do, without being asked. It is a part of this school’s DNA, and we want service to others to be a part of every law student’s DNA. We want aspiring lawyers to acquire the same lifelong habits that students get here at CUNY Law. Exposing law students to those most in need can build the kind of empathy that will inspire them to continue to provide service throughout their careers.
I am so proud of CUNY Law School. Being here, in this beautiful new space, at this spectacular law school, whose students and faculty are dedicated to making sure that the protection of our laws is available to everybody, rich and poor, high and low alike, makes this chief judge so confident that equal justice under the rule of law will remain the vibrant foundation of our legal system and our society.
This is a milestone day for CUNY Law School because finally the astounding things that happen within the walls of this institution are matched by this glorious building. Thank you for allowing me to share this day with you.”
– New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman