At a recent reception celebrating “National Pro-Bono Week”, Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York (“PLS”) presented me with its Paul J. Curran Award for Pro Bono Service by a Solo Practitioner or Small Firm for my work in securing the release of an elderly inmate on “medical parole”.

The Curran award is named for Paul J. Curran, a longtime Chairman of PLS’ Board of Directors and a prominent public figure as a state Assemblyman, Chair of New York City’s Commission on Investigation and US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. The award is presented annually to the PLS volunteer attorney who most embodies the late Mr. Curran’s commitment to protecting and defending the rights of incarcerated New Yorkers by providing pro bono services.

Award presentation at 2013 PLS reception in Albany

(L to R): Karen Murtagh, PLS Exec. Director; Jack Lebowitz; Presenter Thomas Curren; Samantha Howell, PLS Pro Bono Coordinator

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The New York Times published an article in its Business Day section about staplers, the lowly office tool that’s parodied by “Milton” in the cult comedy movie “Office Space”.

But for a long time, staplers have been one of the banes of my existence. Why?  Because you’d spend all this time producing a good looking multipage document and its appearance would be spoiled by a crappy stapling job with too large holes, crooked staples, and staples that didn’t fit a few page document tightly.

Then my son Gavin who (being a modern citizen) researches everything relentlessly on Google, gave me his Swingline Optima® stapler, pictured below, which costs about twice or three times the cheaper brands pictured in the Times article (~$25 at the big box office stores), and does a beautiful stapling job, especially with the premium Optima staples (Swingline item #35556) which come in a metal box.

OK, maybe I’m a retro compulsive geek about the appearance of documents (I’m an attorney who also uses Cranes Crest® 100% cotton fiber paper and a fountain pen), but this stapler is very satisfying in making the neat kinds of staples only large office photocopiers were able to make.

Photo on 3-23-13 at 11.34

I wanted to say a few words about my recent “pro bono” legal work after celebrating “National Pro Bono Week” (October 21-27) several weeks ago. “Pro bono” is shorthand for the Latin phrase “Pro bono publico”, meaning “for the public good”. It’s work undertaken voluntarily and without payment, or at a reduced fee, as a public service.

Pro bono service, unlike traditional volunteerism, uses the specific skills of professionals to provide services to those who are unable to afford them. Such work, I’m proud to say, is most commonly associated with the legal profession. [1]

Our state bar ethics rules say that lawyers “should aspire to provide at least twenty hours of pro bono legal services each year to poor persons” and “contribute financially to organizations that provide legal services to poor persons”. However, this is a voluntary goal, unlike most other ethics rules and Court regulation of professional obligations. [2]

While pro bono work doesn’t pay the bills, it is still one of the most satisfying aspects of being a lawyer. The inherent “good karma” of helping those unable to afford legal representation, and the gratitude they and their families express is, in the words of the credit card ad, “priceless”.

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Good question, and the answer is often, maddeningly enough, “it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.”

You may have seen ads on TV for a company called “LegalZoomwhich has over $100 Million in capital and sells legal forms online for things like simple wills and forming LLCs.

I’ve never tried to use LegalZoom, but my guess is, even with their non-lawyer customer assistance agents and “instructions”, figuring out how to use their forms is something like doing your own taxes. Simple if your financial matters are simple, but perplexing if you have to file some of the more complicated forms and schedules and have questions you (or the computer program you’re using) can’t answer. You might make mistakes, or be uncomfortable “going it alone”.

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Hello!  This is my new website and blog for my solo practice as Lebowitz Legal Services, PLLC, located in Glens Falls, New York.

I’ve been a lawyer in state government (as a utilities regulator), corporate in-house practice for a Fortune 100 corporation and in private practice in mid-sized law firms for over 20 years prior to starting my own solo general practice.

Based on the “good, bad and ugly” I’ve seen along the way, I’ve rolled out a new solo practice that’s dedicated to providing effective legal services at reasonable rates.   I’ve laid out my experience and guiding principles on the “About” page on this website.

From time to time, I’ll also be blogging on this site about lawyering and matters of interest to prospective clients and the public.

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