Pro Bono Net would like to recognize the thousands of volunteer lawyers who make a huge difference for those in need and the incredibly important work of pro bono volunteers in building our capacity to meet the vast unmet need for civil legal services. Today, in honor of National Celebrate Pro Bono Week, we’re sharing the profile of Nic Rangel, volunteer with Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York (LASNNY).
Nic Rangel is the Floor Counsel and Ethics Counsel of the New York State Senate Democratic Conference. Nic is a committed volunteer in LASNNY’s Private Attorney Involvement programs, particularly Closing the Gap. The Closing the Gap program provides limited scope legal assistance to otherwise unrepresented litigants in housing and consumer cases through the use of remote technology and interactive interviews.
Tell me how you became interested in pro bono legal work.
I grew up poor, and lived in low-income communities most of my life. I have first-hand experience with some of the ways that unmet legal needs can compound the problems of people already living in poverty.
Now that I am an attorney, I have the ability to help people with some of their legal needs. I think it is my duty to do so and I am glad I can.
What kind of pro bono work are you involved in?
Closing the Gap, “CTG”, much of my pro bono work is through the Closing the Gap program. I provide brief, unbundled legal assistance in consumer debt matters and evictions.
Albany County Bar Association and LASNNY’s transgender name changes and gender marker changes.
The Center for Community Insight, Inc., I co-founded a non-profit organization to provide poverty simulation and poverty-related consulting services.
What Pro Bono Net platforms have helped you during your volunteering?
I first started using LawHelp as the Post-graduate Pro Bono Fellow at Albany Law School. I’ve accessed webinars, trainings and other materials from the Probono.net site. At the Equal Justice Conferences, I’ve attended the 50 NEW Tech Tips panels, and other panels addressing ways to use technology to reach more people in need of legal help. I have recommended Probono.net to recent law graduates to help them find pro bono opportunities in their areas of interest.
Now I primarily use Probono.net for the CTG program. I think my experience with LawHelp Interactive made it easier for me to understand how the guided interview produced effective legal documents.
How long have you been volunteering for?
As children, our parents taught us that it is our duty and responsibility to give back to our community. At least as far back as middle school I volunteered at the local food pantry for holiday food basket programs. By high school, I was volunteering with multiple organizations, including at my church, and at the humane society. I’ve have not had a gap in volunteering since then.
Can you share a highlight from a memorable case?
One of my CTG clients was fighting an eviction. The family of 5, 3 small children, were living in a unit that was otherwise condemned, had broken windows, a broken stove, a broken refrigerator, broken front door that allowed strangers access to a hallway, mold and a leaky roof. The tenants were still paying rent, and fighting to stay in this unit because it was the best they could do with their income. I drafted an answer for this family to try to keep them in this wretched living space, and they were so grateful for my help. I was glad I could provide the help they asked for, but disturbed by their quality of life and how little my help would actually do for them.
Why do you feel it’s important for you to do pro bono work?
People need the help. Most people cannot afford legal assistance for the vast majority of their legal needs. I have the privilege of being an attorney and I have a responsibility to use my privilege to help others.
Will you continue to do pro bono work? Would you recommend it to others?
Yes & Yes. I recommend pro bono work to students and attorneys for skills development, professional development, networking and relationship building, career exploration and, of course, service to the community. I have gained practical experience drafting legal documents related to consumer debt, eviction defense, and gender marker changes through my pro bono work in the last couple of years. I have also had the opportunity to engage in direct client services, which I do not get at my job. I have referred several people to the CTG program specifically.
Pro Bono Net’s Closing the Gap builds legal assistance capacity in rural communities by facilitating limited scope assistance from pro bono volunteers based in Albany and Rochester. Combining real-time web video chat with client collaboration tools, remote review of documents and generation of pleadings through LawHelp Interactive, Closing the Gap increases the quantity and scope of pro bono service delivery in housing and consumer cases in rural upstate New York.
The Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York provides effective, free civil legal services and education to and advocacy for people with low income or other barriers to accessing the legal system. We secure basic needs, protect and preserve legal rights, provide equal access to justice and seek fairness and dignity for our clients.