For the past year, the Cornell Law School community has aspired to reinvigorate the longstanding Legal Aid Clinic to serve local low-income residents in connection with civil legal matters. With that goal in mind, the last hurdle to clear was finding a professor to teach the clinic and supervise the students.
The year-long wish finally comes to fruition this fall as Jonathan Feldman, a Rochester-based attorney with twenty-five years of relevant experience in public interest law, takes the helm of the re-imagined Legal Aid Clinic.
Feldman and the clinic students will represent low income and indigent clients in Tompkins County in civil legal matters. One of the areas of clinic concentration will be education cases that revolve around students with disabilities who have a conflict with the school system. Another will be denial of government benefits cases.
“The clinic will do several things,” says John Blume, Director of Clinical, Advocacy, and Skills Programs at the Law School. He added, “the students will be working in an area where there is a sea of need. This will give individuals in need opportunities and access to justice. The clinic will also provide hands-on experience and give students an opportunity to put the legal skills they’ve learned in law school to work.”
Under the direction of Professor Feldman, a senior staff attorney with the Empire Justice Center’s Civil Rights, Employment and Education Unit in Rochester, roughly a dozen students will be enrolled in the clinic. Feldman is well versed in representing clients in civil matters related to education, particularly special education matters. In his career, he has carried out class action lawsuits against both the Rochester City School District and the Greece Central School District on behalf of students with disabilities.
“I'm excited to work with Cornell Law students and help them learn to respond to low-income clients' legal needs," says Feldman. "I've also been gratified to learn of the rich network of grassroots advocacy organizations that exist in Ithaca. I'm looking forward to developing a 'synergy' between the Law School and the Empire Justice Center, where our chief counsel, Bryan Hetherington '75, is himself a Cornell Law grad."
“There are people whose educational needs are not being met or who have been wrongfully expelled,” says Blume. Having a clinic which addresses the civil needs of the local community and focuses on education has the potential to make a positive impact not only on the children affected, but also the broader community, adds Blume. “When children don’t receive an appropriate education, good things usually do not happen. Education is an area of need and this is a clinic that could make a very significant difference in these kids' lives.”