Unemployed individuals in Western New York have a new ally in gaining life-sustaining benefits, with a major state grant to support the work of student attorneys at the University at Buffalo School of Law.
The $100,000 grant, announced at an outdoor news conference Aug. 16 on UB’s North campus, will increase capacity of the law school’s Community Engagement Legal Clinic. In addition to other initiatives, student attorneys in that clinic represent clients whose initial applications for benefits have been denied and submit appeals to the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board.
Passage of the State Legislature funding was led by New York State Assemblywoman Latoya Joyner, a 2012 graduate of UB School of Law and chair of the Assembly’s Committee for Labor. She represents portions of the Bronx as the Assembly member for the 77th District.
The Community Engagement Legal Clinic, one of the law school’s #UBLawResponds clinics dedicated to addressing Access to Justice needs, focuses on unemployment benefits issues, protecting the civil rights of veterans, examining possible civil responses to racially motivated violence, helping Western New York middle and high school families appeal unfair disciplinary actions that contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline, and other matters. The clinic was created in response to legal needs generated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This idea was born out of a conversation with the attorney general’s office,” Joyner said at the news conference. “We saw the rise in people applying for unemployment during the pandemic, and just last week we had 15,000 claims in New York State alone.”
The funding for the law school clinic comes in parallel with a similar grant for work at New York University, bolstering services to unemployed clients both upstate and downstate.
“It’s a critical program, and I’m very proud to be part of this initiative,” Joyner said. “I hope it will spearhead even more initiatives throughout the state.”
“As New York State’s law school, we are committed to providing a first-class legal education to our students and serving our community by providing access to justice for those who might otherwise not find proper representation,” said Professor S. Todd Brown, interim dean of the law school. “These twin goals merge in our clinical program.
“This new funding that will enhance our ability to serve the community. And it will provide our students with the opportunity to gain valuable litigation skills from client interviews, direct and cross-examination, research and drafting briefs, and preparing for and delivering closing arguments. It will also give them front-line experience in Access to Justice work specifically. And, of course, it will provide service for those with critical needs.”
“This funding will allow our clinic to focus on vital unemployment matters facing New Yorkers,” said Professor and Vice Dean for Advocacy and Experiential Education Kim Diana Connolly, who directs the law school’s clinical education program. “Our students are able to make a huge difference in the lives of their clients.”