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avatar for Helaine Barnett

Helaine Barnett

Permanent Commission on Access to Justice
New York, NY
Helaine M. Barnett has devoted her entire professional career to the provision of
legal aid to the poor and in the pursuit of equal access to justice. In January 2004,
she was appointed President of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) in
Washington, DC, the first legal aid attorney to serve in that position, where she
served for six years. Under her leadership, LSC issued the groundbreaking Justice
Gap Report, which documented the unmet civil legal needs of low-income
Americans. Before joining LSC, she spent 37 years with The Legal Aid Society in
New York City, the last ten as Attorney-in-Charge of its multi-office Civil
Division. Among her accomplishments, she created its Homeless Family Rights
Project and mobilized its 9/11 disaster assistance response. Since returning to New
York in 2010, she was appointed by the Chief Judge of New York to chair a
statewide Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services, which has become
the New York State Permanent Commission on Access to Justice, which she
continues to chair. As a result of its work, New York has allocated annually $100
million of state funding for civil legal services, more than any other state in the
country. She also taught a seminar at NYU Law School on Access to the Civil
Justice System and founded Legal Hand, which are neighborhood storefront
centers staffed with community volunteers, who are not lawyers, who provide legal
information, assistance, and referrals to try to prevent issues from turning into legal
actions. She has held leadership positions in the American Bar Association, serving
on its Board of Governors and its Executive Committee. She is a recipient of
numerous awards, including the ABA Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of
Achievement, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the New York Law Journal,
and the New York State Bar Association Gold Medal for Distinguished Service in
the Law, and has published several law review articles on access to justice.