Meet Alex Ryley, Our New Elderly Project Director

March 25, 2014

Alex Ryley joined VOLS on February 24th, as the new director of the Elderly Project. Prior to his new role, Ryley worked as a staff attorney with The Legal Aid Society’s Brooklyn Office for the Aging. Much of his time there was spent in Housing Court defending the rights of seniors to stay in their homes. He also practiced in the NY Supreme Court, where he helped clients petition for guardianship of their incapacitated loved ones.

Ryley has long identified advocacy for the elderly to be both his mission and his passion. Through the many guardianship cases that Ryley worked on, he came to realize that all of those cases had arisen because the elderly incapacitated persons in question lacked certain preparatory, “life-planning” legal documents: powers of attorney and healthcare proxies. At VOLS, one of Ryley’s primary roles is to facilitate the free preparation of these documents for eligible Manhattan seniors by trained pro bono lawyers--a service about which Ryley acutely understands the importance.

What drew you to working with the elderly?

I attribute my passion for working with the elderly to my relationship with my Aunt Kay, an extraordinary woman who died at age 89 a number of years ago. She was a great helper of other people, enlisting for example in the Red Cross during World War II, which she spent overseas assisting GIs. We were very close, and as she aged I was disturbed by the way she sometimes was treated when she left her home and went out into the world. Kay had the financial and social resources with which to meet these challenges, but many seniors do not. I wanted to work to improve the lives of seniors not as fortunate as Kay.

What brought you to VOLS?

I spent the past several years representing low-income elderly clients at The Legal Aid Society’s Brooklyn Office for the Aging, mostly in housing litigation, but also with respect to government benefits and in guardianship proceedings.I wanted to transition to a position where I could employ my housing, benefits, and guardianship knowledge alongside my prior experience as a manager and as an elder-law attorney.

What has been the most rewarding moment of your career?

That’s not an easy question to answer, as there have been many rewarding moments. One recent victory came in the form of a Housing Court decision where the judge agreed with my argument that my 82-year-old, disabled client’s apartment was subject to Rent Stabilization – thereby giving him significant rights as a tenant – though his landlord had claimed the opposite (and destroyed important evidence during the course of the case). The case required a lot of research and work on my part, mostly to obtain testimony from non-party witnesses. The favorable decision means that the tenant can remain in his home of 25 years.

Generally, though, I feel extremely fortunate to be able to do precisely the kind of work that I set out to do when I applied to law school. That is a rare privilege, even for the few of us who enter law school knowing what it is that we want to do as lawyers.

What is your main goal with regards to your new position at VOLS?

I want to build on the work of my predecessors, who strove to maximize the number of seniors whom we are able to serve while maintaining a high level of quality. An initial goal is to find creative ways to attract even more seniors to our monthly legal clinics that we hold throughout Manhattan.