Purpose Prize

Marc Freedman Portrait

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Leah Margulies

Purpose Prize Fellow 2010

Margulies is providing low-income and other vulnerable New Yorkers with free, online legal information and referrals to complimentary legal services.

After years working in the nonprofit sector, Leah Margulies moved to the private sector, needing the income to support her young child. After 10 years as a technology consultant, Margulies missed nonprofit work.

“I especially missed feeling that my energy was contributing to building a better society,” says Margulies. So when a friend asked her to lead LawHelp/NY, then a leaderless and underperforming legal aid website, Margulies jumped at the opportunity, though it meant significantly less income.

In 2009, more than 2 million New Yorkers went to court without attorneys, often facing skilled adversaries representing landlords, mortgage banks or credit card companies. For the poor and unrepresented, LawHelp/NY is the first line of defense.

The website lists eligibility and intake information for more than 650 free legal aid projects and makes available thousands of know-your-rights and self-help resources in 35 languages, providing explanations of complicated legal problems in 15 areas of law.

Under Margulies’ leadership, LawHelp/NY has added several new innovative components, including LiveHelp, a real-time chat feature that navigates visitors to extensive community-level outreach and the specific legal resources that answer their questions.

As a result, LawHelp/NY went from a little-known resource to one widely used by libraries, social service agencies and legal aid offices throughout the state. With a budget of less than $400,000, LawHelp/NY has seen usage triple to 377,343 visitors, mostly low-income, viewing more than 2 million pages of legal information in 2009.