"I worked on a pro bono unemployment benefits case through VOLS with others at my firm. The Project Director, our point of contact at VOLS, was extraordinarily knowledgeable and helpful, and was readily accessible. I had heard good things about working with VOLS from a colleague, and after working on the case, I can see why."
- Associate and 2014 VOLS Volunteer
In the Unemployment Insurance Advocacy Project, pro bono lawyers represent New Yorkers who have been denied unemployment benefits at administrative hearings. In 2016, over 37 lawyers from 12 partner firms and solo practitioners volunteered through the project, and helped claimants secure more than $330,000 in unemployment benefits that had been wrongly denied.
Unemployment benefits provide crucial, temporary income support to people who have lost a job through no fault of their own. For people who live paycheck-to-paycheck, these benefits can stave off an eviction and keep food on the family's table, enabling the breadwinner to focus on finding a new job quickly.
In most cases, employers have some kind of representation at unemployment insurance hearings. However, more than 80% of claimants are unrepresented. Only about 28% of unrepresented claimants win their hearings. When claimants are represented by a lawyer, their odds of securing these crucial benefits nearly triple. In 2016, for example, 90% of claimants represented through VOLS won unemployment benefits.
"I recently had the pleasure of getting to know VOLS' Unemployment Insurance Advocacy Project in depth and reviewing its recent cases. What is truly remarkable is that in every single case, the clients had a winning result in the end. VOLS did some amazing work with its awesome volunteer lawyers."
- Nicole Salk, Senior Staff Attorney, Workers' Rights and Benefits Unit, South Brooklyn Legal Services
Our Project Director recruits lawyers and offers a two-hour introductory training. VOLS carefully screens and assesses cases that come in through a hotline, refers appropriate matters to our trained volunteers, and continues to offer support and guidance to volunteers as they prepare their cases for hearings.
Volunteer attorneys interview clients, review documents, and develop a case theory. They then appear before an administrative law judge, conduct direct and cross-examinations, and make closing arguments. On average, preparation for a case takes 15-20 hours, over three to six weeks. VOLS offers a similar opportunity for law firm summer associates.