Pro Bono - Organizations Lawyers Alliance For New York Establishes Elder Services Initiative

Monday, August 1, 2005 - 00:00

Editor: Please tell our readers about your background.

Altschuler: Following graduation from Georgetown University Law Center, I clerked for the Honorable E. Norman Veasey, former Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court, who is now a senior partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. Before that I was a Legislative Correspondent for Congressman Mike Castle of Delaware, where I worked on a variety of legislative and constituent issues, including elder services. I now work in Weil, Gotshal's Corporate Governance/Securities litigation practice group, and am a member of the Delaware and New York bars.

Jellinek: Since 1972, I have been running community based programs for the elderly in New York City. Through this network, seniors can access daily meals, meals-on-wheels, home care, case management, housing, legal services, art, recreational and social activities, transportation, escort and shopping service, inter-generational programs, counseling, benefit assistance and community outreach. I became the Executive Director of CSCS in 1987. I currently sit on a number of national boards and committees, including the National Council on Aging's Policy Committee, the National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs, and the New York State Coalition on Aging. I am also the vice-chair of the Human Services Council of New York City.

Manley: I began my legal career at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP as an associate in the business reorganization department after I earned my J.D. at Fordham Law School in 1991. I then clerked for the Honorable Lorretta A. Preska, U.S. District Court for the Southern District New York. Following my clerkship, I returned to Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP and in 1996 moved to the business restructuring department of Jones Day. In 1997, I joined Lawyers Alliance as a staff attorney. Today I lead our Elder Services Initiative.

Editor: What led Lawyer's Alliance to develop the Elder Services Initiative?

Manley: Many of New York's elderly population, including a large number of minorities, live in poverty and rely upon the support of community based organizations to provide them with basic services. Operating with limited overhead budgets many of these organizations cannot afford to retain counsel. We developed the Elder Services Initiative to provide these organizations with transactional business law services.

Elder service agencies need assistance with incorporating and seeking federal tax exemption, real estate, human resources (with regard to both paid personnel and volunteers), privacy issues such as HIPAA, mergers and strategic alliances, and tax issues relating to revenue generating activities. They also need guidance with government contracting issues since there are complicated contract procurement rules in New York City.

Editor: Mr. Jellinek, please tell our readers about CSCS?

Jellinek: Founded in 1979 as a membership organization, we now have over 200 members who are serving more than 300,000 older New Yorkers. Our members include senior centers, meals programs, housing and other elder service agencies. Our core mission is to promote the quality of life in dependent living, productivity, and dignity of mature and older adults and their families in New York City. A substantial portion of our work is advocating for seniors at the city, state and federal level. Most recently, we were successful in securing more than $40 million in the city budget to provide increased salaries for elder care workers, meals-on-wheels, meals in senior centers, transportation, social adult day care, English as a second language classes, Safe Streets program, and a new initiative for mental health services.

Editor: How did Lawyers Alliance and Weil Gotshal come to represent CSCS?

Jellinek: In 1994, I contacted Lawyers Alliance because we needed to better understand the ability of 501(c)(3) organizations to lobby and the public sector was challenging the privatization of home care providers. Lawyers Alliance introduced us to Weil, Gotshal, who enthusiastically adopted us as a pro bono client. Since then, Weil, Gotshal has made available to us its expertise and attorneys from many departments and practice groups.

Manley: Lawyers Alliance's model is to co-counsel with pro bono counsel on all matters for our clients. So when CSCS came to us, we conducted an initial screening to determine their legal needs. We then partnered them with Weil, Gotshal's Corporate Governance/Securities litigation practice group, from which three attorneys, including Ash, have since served as CSCS' pro bono general counsel. As CSCS keeps developing new innovative initiatives for New York's elderly population, Weil, Gotshal continues to provide expert counsel to guide them through the implementation of new programs.

Altschuler: In 2001, my practice group asked if I would take over as CSCS' pro bono general counsel. I thought it would be a great opportunity to apply my legal skills, as well as my experience with the state and federal government, to benefit CSCS and its constituency. I also have elderly grandparents, so CSCS' mission struck a personal chord. I have since developed a close relationship with Igal and his outstanding staff. My office and this firm are always open to them, and Igal and I discuss weekly the issues facing CSCS. I also attend their board meetings, so I have first-hand knowledge of CSCS' corporate governance, the concerns of its Board members, and the organization's legal needs. Weil, Gotshal has been exceptional in allowing me to spend significant pro bono time to help CSCS and its mission to improve the lives of New York's seniors. I also must say that another New York attorney in private practice, Robert M. Freedman, is a CSCS director and has been very influential and helpful to CSCS for many years.

Editor: What are some of the recent issues that CSCS has faced?

Jellinek: We must create revenue to be able to serve our members as government aid continues to decrease. One of our initiatives was to create revenue for CSCS' senior services while at the same time reducing costs for our members so that they can continue to provide meals. Our members annually purchase over $40 million in food and supplies, and churn out 68,000 meals a day to seniors. We partnered with a private-sector entity in the food industry to create a web-based nutrition marketplace, the Council of Senior Centers and Services of New York/MedAssets Senior Nutrition Marketplace, where our members can order food and supplies online for their meal service operations. CSCS needed to consider the tax implications of earning income from operating the Marketplace and also needed guidance in structuring the Marketplace and working on the relevant contracts. We turned to our team of lawyers at Lawyers Alliance and Weil, Gotshal to guide us through the process. Lawyers Alliance gave us excellent and practical advice on the not-for-profit tax aspects of the Marketplace initiative. After receiving guidance from Lawyers Alliance, Weil, Gotshal handled the contract drafting and negotiation, licensing issues, and the development of a working business plan.

Altschuler: We worked with CSCS, Lawyers Alliance, and the private sector partners to create a series of contracts, financial models, and business plans to develop and implement the Marketplace. Notably, the Marketplace will operate at no cost to CSCS or its member organizations, and will deliver high quality meals to seniors at a reduced price. The core agreements have been executed and CSCS and its members are presently in the testing phase of the Marketplace. We are confident that the program will greatly benefit CSCS and its members.

Jellinek: In addition to the Marketplace, another initiative was the implementation of our CSCS ACCESS TO BENE*FITSª program, which is a computerized screening tool that helps seniors and others to use technology to identify benefits that may be available to them. Weil, Gotshal provided us its trade attorneys and Ash to ensure that CSCS had the appropriate trademark and other protections in place for the software that we had developed.

Editor: So Weil Gotshal's various practice groups are available to assist on CSCS's matters?

Altschuler: Yes. Many of Weil, Gotshal's departments and practice groups have assisted CSCS on a pro bono basis. This includes the Corporate Governance/Securities practice group, our Trade and Intellectual Property practices, and the Corporate department. Because CSCS is such a valued pro bono client, whenever an issue arises that requires assistance outside my practice group, my colleagues in other areas are very responsive and willing to jump in, even for matters that may span years. I find their commitment and devotion to pro bono service to be truly remarkable.

Manley: Weil, Gotshal has a tremendous commitment to pro bono work. They treat their pro bono clients as they would their other clients and to that end they work hard to maintain their relationships.

Editor: Congratulations, Ash, on receiving the 2004 Cornerstone Award for your services to CSCS.

Manley: Every year Lawyers Alliance honors volunteers and firms that have put in an extraordinary effort. With over 600 active matters, we recognize the 10 individuals and firms that have been extraordinary. We presented Ash with the 2004 Cornerstone Award for his representation of CSCS as a testament to his exemplary work.

Altschuler: I think it's clear that our work on the Marketplace was the impetus for my receiving the Cornerstone Award, which has been the greatest honor in my career. It is equally clear that the Marketplace project never would have gotten off the ground without the excellent work of Lawyers Alliance on the key not-for-profit issues. This is but one example of the value added by Lawyers Alliance when it comes to the needs of New York's community based organizations.

Editor: Do CSCS' member organizations also rely on Lawyers Alliance for legal services?

Jellinek: Yes. Many of our members are too small to be able to afford their own legal counsel. The Lawyers Alliance Elder Services Initiative offers our members the opportunity to have expert legal counsel address their issues at no cost.

Manley: One of the great things about our relationship with CSCS is that they have more than 200 organizational members. Lawyers Alliance engages in systematic outreach to elder service agencies to get the word out that free and low cost legal services are available to them. CSCS graciously invited us to their annual membership meeting this year where we formally launched the Elder Services Initiative and have actively partnered with us to promote it.

Editor: How can those interested in volunteering learn more about the Elder Services Initiative?

Manley: Lawyers Alliance is always excited about recruiting new volunteers to represent our clients. They can visit our website, www.lany.org. They can also contact me directly at (212) 219-1800 ext. 239 or lmanley@lany.org.