The Legal Aid Society of New York provides criminal, juvenile, and civil legal support to New Yorkers who cannot otherwise afford representation. In addition to taking on individual cases, the Legal Aid Society advocates a political agenda, fighting for left-of-center criminal justice, immigration, and housing policies through the courts.
The Legal Aid Society’s case work is broken into three categories: criminal practice, juvenile rights practice, and civil practice. In 2017, the Legal Aid Society worked on over 300,000 cases in New York City. 
In the past several years, the Legal Aid Society has begun a dependable left-of-center advocacy organization, working to push left-of-center policies in courts.
In 2017, the Legal Aid Society launched the Conviction Sealing Project in which twenty clients attempted to seal their criminal records of offenses which occurred ten years ago or more.  It was estimated that over 600,000 New York residents were eligible to have their records sealed, and Legal Aid made it one of their priorities to not only represent criminals attempting to seal their records, but to spread the word about the new statute which allowed for the sealing and “take on as many cases as there are.”  The Legal Aid Society also worked in August 2019 to seal 350 people’s convictions for minor marijuana offenses. 
In addition to working on drug policy, the Legal Aid Society has taken numerous left-of-center positions on the power of the New York Police Department, demanding that the NYPD allow public access to officer disciplinary records in 2017.  Legal Aid has been further embroiled in policing NYPD databases, arguing that all individuals should be able to access the NYPD database which lists potential gang affiliations. 
Recently, Legal Aid has controversially fought against the use of DNA in criminal proceedings. In 2017, Legal Aid combatted a measure which would allow forensic specialists to run DNA samples taken from crime scenes to search for matches to family members who are already in the criminal database.  Such a measure would help to efficiently identify and eliminate suspects in cases of murder, violence, and sexual assault.  Legal Aid opposed it, calling it a racially biased measure which presented an overreach of government power.  In 2019, Legal Aid pushed this argument even further, arguing that the NYPD should not even be able to collect DNA and place it into a database. Legal Aid referred to the practice of DNA collection “race-based genetic stop and frisk.” 
The Legal Aid Society is also involved in pushing left-of-center ideology on incarceration. In 2018, the Legal Aid Society launched a campaign to provide New York prisoners with copies of The New Jim Crow, a controversial book which compares incarceration to the Reconstruction-era conditions of African Americans. 
In 2018, Legal Aid began to fight the enforcement of federal immigration policy, specifically the deportation of illegal immigrants.  Working on behalf of the children of illegal immigrants, the Legal Aid Society successfully obtained a restraining order against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, preventing the agency from removing Legal Aid clients from New York City without 48 hours’ notice. 
In September 2019, Legal Aid clashed with ICE once again, suing the agency and alleging that ICE had acted unlawfully in arresting undocumented immigrants in and around New York courthouses.  Legal Aid claimed that the practice hampered the ability of illegal immigrants to serve as witnesses in court or seek orders of protection. 
Legal Aid has frequently opposed President Donald Trump and his administration’s immigration policy. In August 2019, Legal Aid filed a suit against the Trump administration, calling the “public charge” rule “driven by unconstitutional animus against nonwhite immigrants.”  One month later, Legal Aid clashed with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents directly, alleging that they had parked a van outside of their Manhattan headquarters in order to scare off potential illegal immigrant clients.  Even after U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents clarified that the van was there for traffic control and sent a representative to do a presentation on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office, a representative from Legal Aid said they were “on heightened alert.” 
Outside of taking on particular immigration cases, Legal Aid has launched campaigns to cover the funds for illegal immigrants applying for legal status. 
In 2018, the Legal Aid Society took on the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) for failing to provide adequate heating to residents after 320,000 residents were left without heat or hot water in the winter.  Legal Aid took NYCHA to court and sued for $15 million, claiming back rent for the inconvenience. 
In 2017, Legal Aid sued a landlord for evicting more than 100 tenants out of an assisted living facility in order to sell her building, a suit which she eventually settled for $3.35 million.  Using the suit as a basis for more extensive action, Legal Aid challenged the Heath Department, arguing that the state should be forced to help people relocate when they are forced out of agency-sanctioned facilities. 
In June 2019, New York passed sweeping new rent control laws, curtailing rent increases in regulated apartments and making it almost impossible for landlords to remove apartment units from rent-regulated status.  In July 2019, two landlord groups along with a group of individual building owners filed a suit to challenge the regulation on the grounds that it violated the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of property owners.  Legal Aid filed a motion to intervene with the hopes of eventually filing for dismissal in September 2019, calling the property owners’ suit “frivolous and baseless.” 
In June 2019, Cynthia Taylor, a white lawyer who had worked at the Legal Aid Society for over 20 years, filed a lawsuit against the Legal Aid Society for racial discrimination.  In 2012, Taylor was passed over for a lateral move and told it was due to “diversity considerations,” only to find that the position she had been seeking had been given to a black man with sixteen years less experience.  Aside from alleging discrimination in hiring practices, Taylor claims that she faced harassment from her colleagues based on her race that was so severe she was forced to take medical leave for a year and still suffers PTSD. 
In 2014, a Southeast Asian lawyer and chair of the Attorneys of Color at Legal Aid Caucus allegedly called Taylor a “racist and a classist,” then stated that Taylor had no business working with Legal Aid.  A third party investigated the claim and found no evidence of wrongdoing by Taylor, but the attorney continued to tell the Attorneys of Color Caucus that Taylor was racist. 
In 2017, Taylor was again accused of being racist, and another third-party investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing.  Taylor began to deal with constant harassment from colleagues, with emails from other attorneys charging her of “silencing the oppressed” and engaging in “racist, anti-union activities…to prevent people of color from getting jobs.”  Taylor consistently wrote to management asking them to stop the abuse, and they never responded, forcing Taylor to take a medical leave for her mental health in 2018. 
Even while on leave, the harassment continued. Taylor voted for a white candidate in an office election by email because she was too ill to come into work.  She then received an email from fellow attorney Marlen Bodden calling her a “raging racist” and telling her to “put on a hood and burn a cross in front of a Legal Aid building,” while threatening her with “consequences” for voting for a white candidate.  Legal Aid allegedly did nothing to respond to the harassment. 
As of October 2019, the case has not yet gone to trial, but Legal Aid has expressed its intent to respond to the complaint in court. 
People and Funding
The Legal Aid Society of New York reported $246,594,470 in revenue from government grants and contributions in 2017.  In addition to government funding, the Legal Aid Society received $3,810,222 from fundraising events and $14,890,687 from other contributions. 
The Legal Aid Society’s board is comprised of high-powered, left-of-center attorneys in New York City. Janet Sabel is the current attorney-in-chief and CEO. She spent 25 years working for the Legal Aid Society before joining the New York Attorney General’s Office in 2011. In 2018, she returned to Legal Aid as the CEO and attorney-in-chief.