There is an online form available from the New York Courts which allows adults to change their name in the State of New York. The form can be used statewide and it is one of the most popular online forms in the United States, hosted by Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Interactive. From just October to December 2016, the form was created almost 15,000 times.
Transcend Legal, https://transcendlegal.org/ – a new nonprofit that serves the needs of the trans community in NY state – reached to Claudia Johnson, Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Interactive Program Manager, in late 2016 to find out more about the online form. The form is created and hosted by the NY Courts Access to Justice Program, and is accessible here: http://nycourts.gov/courthelp/Namechange/forms.shtml
The ability to change their legal name is an important right for transgender persons. Having a name that matches their gender identity can minimize discrimination, increase their personal safety, and make it easier to obtain and maintain employment. However, the ease of changing names can vary, affecting a great many transgender individuals.
With this in mind, Claudia connected Noah Lewis, and Charlie Arrowroot (Transcend Legal) and Milo Primeaux (Empire Justice Center) with Rochelle Klempner, Chief Counsel at the New York State Courts Access to Justice Program. A discussion ensued about the practice of some New York counties adding hoops for the applicants in addition to submitting the printed form. These hoops often require waiting periods, multiple court visits, and additional costs. The New York Access to Justice Program contacted the local courts to inquire about those additional requirements that were creating a hardship for filing pro se in those counties.
A Successful Outcome
By early February 2017, the local requirements and hurdles were removed, and the form can now be filed in all counties in NY State as is, without extra requirements. This is an important victory for the transgender community in New York and is one step further down the road of increasing access to justice for transgender and non-binary individuals.
In addition to developing innovative technologies, Pro Bono Net specializes in connecting members of the civil legal community to facilitate increased access to justice. In NY, the partnership between the New York Courts and Pro Bono Net allowed Transcend Legal and Empire Justice Center to bring the legal needs of the transgender community directly to those who could help make changes. The simplification of the process that makes it easier for adults to change their identity documents allows more people to live safely in the state of NY.
Looking to the Future
Transcend Legal, Empire Justice Center, and the New York Courts Access to Justice Program are now exploring further simplification opportunities to remove access to justice barriers to adult name changes and other forms. They will explore remote work flows and further clarifications on the instructions for those who use the form to change their name in months to come. Collaborations of this kind are crucial in ensuring that the justice system runs smoothly and is accessible to those who cannot afford an attorney.
Transcend Legal cultivates equitable social, medical and legal recognition of transgender people by offering culturally competent, transgender-led legal representation, public policy advocacy, community education & organizing, and public education.
Empire Justice is a statewide, multi-issue, multi-strategy public interest law firm focused on changing the “systems” within which poor and low income families live. With a focus on poverty law, Empire Justice undertakes research and training, acts as an informational clearinghouse, and provides litigation backup to local legal services programs and community based organizations. As an advocacy organization, we engage in legislative and administrative advocacy on behalf of those impacted by poverty and discrimination. As a non-profit law firm, we provide legal assistance to those in need and undertake impact litigation in order to protect and defend the rights of disenfranchised New Yorkers.
The NYS Courts Access to Justice Program is one of the Unified Court System’s many programs and initiatives which strive to increase access, improve the delivery of justice and promote public confidence in the courts. Prior to March 2009, the responsibilities of the NYS Courts Access to Justice Program were overseen by the former Office of the Administrative Judge for Justice Initiatives.