The New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services plays an important role in the Family Court system. Through this panel, low-income individuals in Family Court can be represented by experienced attorneys, even if they cannot afford it. Tens of thousands of people benefit from this service.
But the 18-B indigent defense program is in the midst of a crisis. Lawyers are opting to leave the program, which is now coping with a shortfall.
Nivin: It’s ‘exhausting and very, very difficult’
Law 360 recently wrote a story detailing the root cause of this deterioration. The position, funded by taxpayers, pays anywhere from $60-$75 an hour. That rate has not changed in more than fifteen years. It pales in comparison to the compensation federal panel attorneys on noncapital cases receive.
This limited pay rate has put many attorneys in a bind. They want to help, but they simply cannot afford it. Coupled with the increasing and often-complex workload, lawyers are simply pivoting elsewhere.
Joseph Nivin, of The Law Offices of Joseph H. Nivin, P.C., used to be an 18-B lawyer in Queens. He spoke to Law 360 about the issues facing the program, saying that while the trial experience is “great,” the job is often frustrating.
Nivin explained that the caseload often meant he did not have sufficient time for clients, and said it is “exhausting and very, very difficult to pay for an office and an assistant on $75 an hour.”
There is presently no way for the Family Court to provide representation to indigent litigants without the 18-B panel. State law requires New York City to pay for legal representation for people who can not. Leaders, however, will likely need to devise a solution if they want to slow down the ongoing attorney exodus.