When NDS opened its office in Harlem in 1990, we offered a new paradigm in the fight for fairness and quality representation for those who could not afford it. In the 30 years since, NDS has provided dynamic and ever-evolving holistic support in confronting the challenges brought about by the structural racism pervasive in our legal system. We have provided not only world-class legal representation but also critical support and assistance to our clients and their families in an effort to help improve their lives. All this, while meeting head-on the greatest challenges of our time—mass incarceration, police violence, eviction crises, family separation, COVID-19, and more.
NDS has pursued a comprehensive national advocacy platform to disrupt the stark racial and economic disparities endemic to our legal system. From pre-arrest representation, to marijuana decriminalization, to Raise the Age, to re-entry issues, NDS has rallied against the over-criminalization and mass incarceration of Black and Brown communities. Its pioneering efforts have spurred a movement to challenge a criminal conviction’s civil collateral consequences, including housing, deportation consequences, and family separation, and to expand the right to counsel in both criminal and civil proceedings around the world.
In contrast to a traditional public defense practice, NDS clients have an entire team fighting on their behalf, including criminal and civil attorneys, family defense attorneys, advocates, social workers, administrators, investigators, paralegals, law school and social work interns, and pro bono attorneys. NDS deploys all of these resources on behalf of its clients, addressing the underlying issues that bring them into contact with the criminal legal system. NDS engages clients early, often even before arrest, working with them to investigate the facts of the case and mobilizing community support. In doing so, it changes the landscape of a case by giving life to the presumption of innocence and providing poor clients the kind of legal services otherwise reserved for the wealthy. This approach allows support to extend well beyond the courtroom, with robust social services meant to protect clients from the damages of criminal legal proceedings. When clients face consequences with employment, schooling, immigration, or in family or housing court, NDS works alongside them to resolve these issues.
The PACE Program is the next generation of groundbreaking work growing out of the NDS experience. For 30 years we have been guided by our mission, vision, and values and intend to use those same core principles to create long-lasting, meaningful structural change for a reimagined world. Read more at NeighborhoodDefender.org