The Student Bar Association recently approved the Fair Hearings Representation and Assistance Project (FHRAP) as an independent student organization that will represent low-income individuals in public assistance benefits proceedings. Within one month of FHRAP’s founding, members organized two on-campus trainings to teach students and practitioners how to represent clients at fair hearings.
Individuals and families who receive public assistance might receive notice that their benefits are changing or terminating and have as little as ten days to request a hearing to discuss the matter. When they arrive at their hearings, they are often unrepresented and unfamiliar with the process. Frequently, they fail to ask the right questions or do not know how to answer the questions asked. FHRAP was created to assist recipients of public assistance through this process.
Erika Lorshbough ’12 initiated the student group based on needs expressed by local direct service providers, as well as her first-year involvement with another pro bono project serving survivors of domestic violence. “We’ve worked to set up a similar program to help disadvantaged people get the fair hearings they’re constitutionally entitled to. Clients with representation win their cases much more frequently than those without. There is a huge need, and with our help they are more likely to retain their benefits fairly,” she said.
FHRAP presented two fair hearings representation trainings for students. At the first training, Lorshbough and practicing attorneys from Legal Services New York City (LSNYC) offices in Brooklyn provided an overview of government benefits law and related issues faced by benefits recipients. At the second training, FHRAP partnered with Project FAIR and LSNYC to provide basic procedural training on fair hearings to students and practicing attorneys. Project FAIR is a collaborative, city-wide project working towards greater economic justice for low-income and homeless New Yorkers.
Staff members from the Legal Aid Society, Urban Justice Center, NYLAG, Bed Stuy Legal Services, South Brooklyn Legal Services, the Brooklyn Family Defense Project, Legal Services Bronx, and Legal Services Brooklyn Branch all participated.
Lorshbough is co-chairing the task force with Dannea Delisser ‘13 and Julia Howard-Gibbon ‘12. Alum John Macrae ‘89 of LSNYC Brooklyn Branch has also been extremely involved in both the creation of FHRAP and the organization of these trainings. Additionally, attorneys from LSNYC will work with Brooklyn Law School students on their cases, providing the opportunity for students to develop constructive relationships with local practitioners.
“This is a win-win for students and clients,” Lorshbough said. “BLS provides the perfect location to do this work; the hearings office is literally right around the corner. Students can learn and practice administrative law in a supportive environment where they are likely to win a case and gain great experience. There is no attorney supervision required to represent a client, so students can develop important skills and work as independent advocates early on. When I went out on interviews for summer fellowship placements, everyone wanted to talk about my pro bono advocacy experience.”