Nonprofits that need help navigating complex laws governing charity groups will have more legal resources thanks to the expansion of Charity Corps, an initiative that pairs nonprofits with volunteer lawyers. The joint initiative of the Attorney General's Office and New York State Bar Association provided volunteer lawyers to 56 nonprofit organizations in a pilot program this year. Next year, it will serve up to 100 more groups. Volunteer attorneys assist the groups on matters involving corporate law, governance and compliance with fundraising requirements.
Of 80,000 charities in New York, only about a quarter have access to legal counsel, according to Charity Corps' chair Lesley Rosenthal, who is also general counsel of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
"There's a need for more and greater work by charity groups because the economic times have been so challenging," Rosenthal said. "At the same time, the regulatory scheme has gotten more and more complex."
Volunteers have been drawn from top firms such as Weil, Gotshal & Manges, Willkie Farr & Gallagher and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, as well as legal services groups from across New York. Charity Corps trains its volunteer attorneys on strict regulatory, fundraising and registration legal matters that nonprofits face. It also educates nonprofit leaders on how to navigate a tricky legal climate themselves.
Nonprofits seeking assistance from Charity Corps beginning next year must apply by Jan. 15. Groups must have 501(c)(3) nonprofit status and demonstrate they cannot afford counsel. Attorneys interested in volunteering can visit the state bar's website.