Andrew Kamensky is a partner at Hunton & Williams LLP. Two years ago, he began providing pro bono legal assistance to incarcerated mothers through VOLS’ Incarcerated Mothers Law Project (IMLP).
He has participated in 15 monthly sessions at the Taconic Correctional Facility in Bedford Hills and provided legal counsel and advice to more than 10 mothers.
On the occasion of Pro Bono Week, VOLS commends Andy for his commitment and dedication to this project, and for his leadership in involving Hunton & Williams in IMLP.
In a recent interview, Andy described his involvement in the project and why it is important to him.
What attracted you to this project?
In 2013, VOLS conducted a training session at my firm. I learned that approximately 75% of the women prisoners in New York State are mothers. Most were primary caretakers of their children before their arrest, many as single parents. Many of these women, who are unfamiliar with their rights as parents, need legal advice concerning child custody and visitation. Although I had no family law background, IMLP mentors and training materials prepared me to assist these women and have a positive impact on their lives.
Why do you continue to volunteer?
I enjoy volunteering with IMLP because the program makes a positive change in our world. My work as a restructuring attorney routinely affords me the opportunity to help others, but often not in the tangible way that pro bono or charitable work does. It is very rewarding to help mothers and their children stay connected. Recently, a client who had not seen her children in several months mailed me photos of herself playing with her children at Taconic after I helped her arrange for visitation. Her kids' smiling faces were priceless!
How do you help the clients?
During the past two years, I have helped my pro bono clients at Taconic with a variety of legal issues, including obtaining visitation with their children, interpreting legal pleadings and court orders and helping mothers to re-establish contact with their children in foster care.
At one of the IMLP sessions, I met with a woman who lost contact with her daughter a few years ago. When my client was incarcerated, her daughter was placed in kinship foster care with her sister. The client's sister and daughter moved to Florida and stopped communicating. My client was heartbroken and did not know what to do. I pulled the Family Court docket and reviewed the pleadings. The court had ordered liberal visitation rights to my client and she was not aware! We are now in the process of helping our client to reconnect with her daughter.
How do you engage other lawyers at your firm?
In my role as Hunton & Williams’ New York Office Pro Bono Committee Chairperson, I encourage other lawyers at the firm to get involved with the project. Several associates now participate at the project’s two sites. I also arranged for our summer associates to do pro bono work through IMLP at Rikers each of the past two summers. The experience has been beneficial for the clients as well as our future attorneys. The ability to provide one-on-one counseling sharpens a young attorney’s communication skills, while helping a mother and her children. It’s a win-win situation for all. When these summer associates return to the firm as lawyers, I hope I have laid the groundwork for them to continue their involvement in this worthwhile pro bono project.
To read more about VOLS' IMLP or to find out about becoming a volunteer, please visit here.