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Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University Announces Opening of Pro Se Legal Assistance Program at Central Islip Federal Courthouse

Logo of the Hofstra Pro Se Legal Assistance Program, which has the logo of the Maurice A. Deane School of Law on the left and the name of the program on the right

Program Unveiling and Reception to be held on February 21

On January 14, the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University opened a free, limited-scope legal assistance program for self-represented litigants at the Eastern District of New York’s Central Islip federal courthouse. The program was created, in part, thanks to a generous grant from the Eastern District of New York’s Civil Litigation Fund.

The goal of the program is to enhance access to justice and help pro se civil litigants in that court as they navigate a variety of legal issues with already filed cases or ones they are seeking to file. It is not part of, nor run by, the United States District Court, but is staffed by members of the Law School, including an attorney, a law professor and several students.

Chief Judge Dora L. Irizarry of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York said: “The judges of the EDNY are dedicated to ensuring that all persons have equal access to justice. The lack of legal representation for the poor is an issue of national concern and we are thrilled that the Hofstra Pro Se Program will offer assistance to unrepresented persons in navigating the complexities of federal litigation.”

“We want to help individuals navigate the court system at a time when they may be dealing with a crisis in their lives,” said Judge Gail Prudenti, dean of Hofstra Law. “This is a great opportunity to assist members of our community who cannot afford legal representation, and offers our students real-world experiences with the federal civil litigation process.”

Supervised by Professor Jennifer Gundlach and staff attorney Ka Fei Wong, the program provides limited-scope legal assistance services for non-incarcerated, self-represented litigants involved in civil proceedings.

In its first few weeks, the program has conducted over 20 consultations with more than 10 litigants. The types of matters that are being handled include federal civil cases involving civil rights issues, employment discrimination, Social Security benefits appeals, and referrals to state court, as well as miscellaneous legal issues.

The Pro Se Legal Assistance Program offers such services as:
• explaining federal court rules and procedures;
• providing brief legal counseling;
• advising about potential federal claims prior to filing suit; and
• reviewing and editing draft pleadings and correspondence with the court.

The Central Islip courthouse had approximately 200 non-incarcerated pro se plaintiffs in 2018.

The Pro Se Legal Assistance Program office is open Monday to Wednesday from 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 2-4:30 p.m. for intake and scheduled appointments. Individuals can schedule an appointment by emailing or by calling 631-297-2575.

Hofstra Law Students Benefit From Pro Se Program

The program not only assists litigants who are unable to afford legal counsel, but also gives valuable experiential training to Hofstra Law students.

“We are giving our students a great opportunity to learn and practice the skills they will use when they graduate and have their own clients,” said Professor Gundlach.

Five students are currently volunteering in the Pro Se Legal Assistance Program. They assist the attorneys by conducting intake interviews with litigants and counseling them about legal issues, as well as doing research, managing cases, and preparing reference and resource guides.

According to first-year law student Nicholas Bruno, “assisting pro se litigants has been an eye-opening experience. Not only have I been able to see the difficulties of representing one’s self, but I’ve also gained valuable professional experience early on in my first year of law school.”

“Working at Hofstra’s Pro Se Legal Assistance Program has made me a better listener and advocate because I’ve learned to work with our self-represented clients so that they can be their own best advocate,” said third-year law student Elizabeth Rizzo.

Launch Event to Celebrate the Hofstra Law Pro Se
Legal Assistance Program

To celebrate the launch of the program, Hofstra Law will host a reception on Thursday, February 21, at the Central Islip Courthouse, 100 Federal Plaza, from 3:30-5:30 p.m.

Chief Judge Irizarry, Judge Gail Prudenti and members of the Pro Se Legal Assistance Program will be available to discuss the work of the program.

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