Since Barbara Finkelstein became executive director and later CEO of Legal Services of the Hudson Valley (LSHV), so much has changed. Once known as Westchester/Putnam Legal Services, the organization has almost octupled its operating budget, to $15 million, and has grown from a staff of 20 to 132. Today, eight offices throughout the Hudson Valley serve some 40,000 people with problems involving fundamentals like shelter, sustenance, safety, health, and child custody.
Forty thousand people sounds like a lot to serve, but it’s just a drop in the bucket, says Finkelstein, who estimates that “545,000 persons are eligible for our help in the seven counties we serve. They have nowhere else to turn…yet lack of sufficient funding prevents LSHV from helping more people.”
Though it seems obvious now, the idea of providing free legal help for civil problems (as opposed to criminal) only took hold about a decade ago, when the American Bar Association called on governments to provide legal counsel as a matter of right, at public expense, in categories of cases in which basic human needs are at stake. Finkelstein, a Rutgers Law School grad, was well ahead of the curve on this issue and runs what is widely hailed as one of the most respected and successful civil legal services programs in the nation — with recent additions like Immigration Services for Victims of Domestic Violence, and Veterans and Military Families Advocacy Project. When LSHV turns 50 in 2017, you can bet Finkelstein will raise the bar even higher.