Celebrating a century of opening doors to justice and opportunity, the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York (LASNNY) finds itself at a historic juncture.
At its helm is Nic Rangel, a trailblazer who holds the distinction of being the first Hispanic woman to lead this organization.
"I grew up myself in a very low-income household,” Rangel said. “I grew up in a mobile home park in North Carolina. We moved to Albany, the Albany area in middle school and even there experienced some housing insecurity. And I experienced personally housing insecurity, getting through college.”
Rangel’s journey is not just a personal odyssey but a testament to her commitment to leveling the playing field for aspiring legal scholars from all walks of life.
"We've implemented a number of initiatives,” she said. “One of those that I'm very proud of is paid clerkships and internships. It really helps allow people who are interested in public service come and learn how to do the work that we do.”
Through these initiatives, LASNNY works to inspire legal professionals and contribute to a more diverse and inclusive legal landscape.
"Celebrating all of the really, really important work and services that the Legal Aid Society of New York has provided for over 100 years now," said Cinnamon Piñon Carlarne, president and dean of Albany Law School.
LASNNY's legacy stretches over a century, providing vital legal support to underserved communities. However, its centenary celebration coincides with a momentous decision by the United States Supreme Court, delivered on June 29, 2023. The ruling challenges long-standing affirmative action practices, notably those employed by Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, arguing that considering an applicant's race during admissions violates the Equal Protection Clause. This ruling has far-reaching implications for minority representation in law schools and has prompted concerns about the future of diversity in legal education.
"Albany Law School is very committed to being a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment," Carlarne said.
The American Bar Association (ABA) has reported a significant increase in minority law school enrollment, rising from 31.28% in 2018 to 33.04% in 2022.
"One of the big hurdles for the law...celebrate the many different kinds of lawyering," emphasized Victoria Esposito, visiting professor at Albany Law School.
In a world where access to justice remains a pressing issue, LASNNY's centenary celebration serves not just as a reflection on its storied past but as a clarion call for the next century.
"There are many pathways to public service, and people who do not have a lot of economic resources coming into law school can find support, scholarships, fellowships, and paid internships,” Rangel said.