Celebrating an anonymous $15 million donation it received over the winter, Albany Law School recently unveiled a new sign for its Justice Center.
Albany Law School President Alicia Ouellette says the former “Law Clinic and Justice Center” was renamed “The Justice Center” following the January donation – the biggest in the school’s history. Between five in-house clinics, students and faculty at the Justice Center provide free legal services in the Capital Region in cases involving domestic violence, immigration law, and more. Justice Center Director Connie Mayer and Ouellette say the renaming reflects the Center’s broadening mission.
“In the past it’s just been the direct representation – and we want to expand that piece – but we’re also gonna take under that umbrella things like our pro-bono program, which is a student-led program," says Mayer.
"[Last year they provided] 52,000 hours of free legal services, pro-bono services," adds Ouellette.
At the moment, Mayer says about 120 students participate in the Justice Center’s clinics, apprenticeships, and field placements each semester, representing roughly 200 to 250 clients a year. While the programs it offers continue to grow in size and scope, Mayer and Ouellette say the Center intends to take on more students.
“Once we get a few more staff attorneys and we get some more faculty, typically we can offer the program to a wider variety of students and more students," Mayer explains.
“And each student can represent more clients, so then it’s the ripple effect of impact," says Ouellette.
Since the donation, Ouellette says the Center has hired another staff attorney for its Community Development Clinic. She credits it with allowing the Center to continue its work “in perpetuity,” and the school hopes to add more faculty in the future. Mayer says the Center’s Family Violence Litigation clinic has been particularly busy. The Immigration Clinic not only helped stop the deportation of local Capital City Rescue Mission Chef Kinimo Ngoran in 2018, but also participated in a statewide effort to provide free counsel to undocumented immigrants.
“Last summer I think they represented over 350 detainees at the [Albany] County jail – so it was quite a big project," Mayer notes. "Part of the project was also training other lawyers how to do this work. And so another part of the Justice Center is this sort of training piece…how to do pro-bono work in the areas in which we practice.”
Third-year student Amanda Paladino was excited to speak at the sign’s unveiling. She says she’s currently working on two cases for the Immigration Clinic, and credits the Center with preparing her for graduation.
“It provides you with experience that you could not get in the classroom or in an internship," she says. "Not only are you working, and for the first time you’re acting as a lawyer, but you also have this classroom component – so you get instruction from your professors, that are also lawyers, and you get to digest in the classroom each week what you’ve been doing, what thoughts you’re having, what you’re confused about.”