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Law firms will provide attorneys pro bono to ‘shorthanded’ city agencies: Mayor

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Mayor Eric Adams announced a new initiative in which law firms will provide attorney pro bono to help shorthanded city agencies. (Courtesy of the mayor’s office)

Faced with chronic staffing shortages in the city’s legal workforce, Mayor Eric Adams launched an innovative program designed to enable junior attorneys from law firms to serve one-year appointments in the legal departments of city agencies. Under the fellowship, the attorneys will continue to be employed by and paid by their firms, but serve New Yorkers as full-time city employees “on the dime of the law firms,” the mayor said.

“Here in the city, we’re not just talking about problems, but solving them,” Adams said. “The Legal Fellows Program will strengthen the partnership between the private and public sectors; lay the groundwork for a lifetime of civic support and engagement; and help put the talents of these dedicated lawyers to work by addressing some of the biggest challenges facing New Yorkers.”

He ticked off the major challenges that his administration has faced including the COVID-19 pandemic and monkeypox, and most recently the influx of asylum seekers sent to the city from Texas and Florida.

“I really want to commend the corporation counsel and our entire legal team, how they have burned the midnight oil to come up with these real answers in real time, in our morning briefings, being prepared in the courtrooms, and executing a very clear plan on how to protect the citizens of this city,” Adams said, comparing the work experience gained by the fellows to service in the Peace Corps. “Having young attorneys at the beginning of their legal careers come into government to provide a public service in a public sector environment, it can only help develop their full personhood as attorneys. It’s a win-win. We’re excited about it.”

The new initiative was developed by City Hall chief counsel Brendan McGuire.

“The city has never needed lawyers as much as it does today. There are currently hundreds of lawyer positions vacant, and the city’s lawyers at the Law Department and within its agencies do incredible work, every day, even though they are shorthanded,” McGuire said. “ The city is aiming to deepen its relationship with lawyers in private practice who are seeking purpose-driven work and to develop the next generation of lawyer leaders committed to city service. We’re excited to plug these attorneys into the challenging and rewarding work we’re doing for New Yorkers, and, more broadly, to expand the partnership between this administration and the private bar.”

Firms that are planning to participate in the Legal Fellows Program include Paul Weiss; Kirkland & Ellis LLP; O’Melveny; Ropes & Gray; Shearman & Sterling; Simpson Thatcher; Willkie Farr & Gallagher; and King & Spalding.

During the ’90s, King & Spalding partner Randy Masto served in the Giuliani administration as chief of staff and deputy mayor for operations.

“I used to have the office right down the hall here. I know the value of public service, but I also know in the private sector we have an obligation to give back,” Mastro said. “We appreciate the challenges ahead on crime, on gun violence, on homelessness, on asylum seeking, on issues relating to the environment and civil rights, on bringing the city back from COVID and bringing people back to the office. To be a part of this brings back a lot of fond memories of public service and how we will be able to share it with some of our young lawyers.”

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