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State Bar Association desperately seeks volunteer attorneys to settle cases linked to COVID-19 deaths

May 29, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
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With estimated death totals related to COVID-19 topping 23,000 so far, the New York State Bar Association is “desperately” seeking volunteer attorneys to match with low-income families who need help settling uncontested small estates, according to an announcement it made on Wednesday.

The Bar Association has partnered with the Unified Court System in the effort, which has been led by Michael Miller, the Bar Association’s immediate past president and a trust and estates attorney. Lawyers willing to volunteer should contact the NYSBA at its Estates and Surrogate’s Court Assistance page, where families in need can access help, as well.

“The New York legal community has always risen to the task in times of crisis,” said Chief Judge Janet DiFiore. “I am grateful to Michael Miller and New York State Bar Association President Hank Greenberg for their leadership on this vital program and to our bar leaders and members throughout the state for their ongoing generosity in response to the immense legal needs of New Yorkers resulting from the pandemic.”

Miller explained that typically, small estates are handled by people who represent themselves, but that often requires an extra effort by court staff. He said lawyers who colunteer their time can help speed up cases coming through the Surrogate’s Court, which is expected to be busier than ever as so many families grieve.

“With more than 23,000 coronavirus deaths in New York and counting, we expect a surge of COVID-19-related estate cases in New York City and across the state, disproportionately involving the poor and minorities,” said NYSBA President Hank Greenberg. “We’re honored that Chief Judge Janet DiFiore has called upon the State Bar Association to spearhead this critically important effort to help New Yorkers suffering the loss of a loved one.”

Attorneys who sign up to help will be required to take a continuing legal education seminar to be eligible for referrals.

The NYSBA announced in April that it would create a partnership with the court system to help New Yorkers affected by the coronavirus. That group has been led by former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and has already been helping people apply for unemployment benefits. It has also created a work group to look into settling disputes between landlords and tenants who have been laid off or have gotten sick from coronavirus.

“We’re not first responders but we lawyers are uniquely qualified to help our fellow grieving New Yorkers in their time of need,” said Miller. “This program is in the finest tradition of pro bono publico. It’s not just a good thing to do; it’s the right thing to do.”

The State Bar has also created a COVID-19 crisis hub on its website, to connect people to resources.

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