The Suffolk Pro Bono Project is pleased to honor Debra A. Brown as its Pro Bono Attorney of the Month. Ms. Brown has effectively and compassionately represented some of the Project’s most vulnerable matrimonial clients for the past eight years. Her commitment to the cause of equal access to justice and to the work of the Project has been a constant. Ms. Brown’s contributions to the Project have more than earned her this recognition.
Among the essential functions of the Project is to provide full legal representation to unrepresented parties in divorce actions who cannot afford to hire attorneys. Debra Brown has stepped forward many times to represent such clients, several of whom were mothers of minor children, to protect their rights and achieve just outcomes in their divorce. Some of her clients were domestic violence survivors. Others were on the verge of homelessness due to the lack of financial support from their spouse. Ms. Brown’s extensive background working on behalf of vulnerable people in crisis, formerly as a social worker and now as an attorney, allows her to be one of our most effective legal advocates.
Ms. Brown’s work with those in need began in the 1980s as a NYS corrections officer. It coincided with the beginning of the HIV epidemic. Ms. Brown saw first-hand the substandard care woman with HIV received from medical professionals, many of whom were unwilling to have any physical contact with their HIV-positive patients. Horrified by what she witnessed, she decided to obtain a degree in social work in order to directly advocate for people living with HIV.
Long before becoming an attorney, Ms. Brown worked closely with attorneys in Nassau Suffolk Law Services’ specialized unit that represents those affected by HIV. After twelve years as a social worker, Ms. Brown desired to do more on behalf people in need. She greatly admired the commitment of the attorneys in the HIV project and began considering law school. Ms. Brown credits Victoria Osk, Nassau Suffolk Law Services Managing Attorney of Suffolk County, for encouraging her and ultimately helping her decide to pursue a law degree. Ms. Brown attended Touro Law Center while still working full time as a social worker. Throughout this time Ms. Brown has been an instructor at Stony Brook University (SBU), where she continues to teach public health to health and human services providers in the community.
Upon graduating from Touro, Ms. Brown was of-counsel with a matrimonial attorney for a time before striking out on her own, opening her solo practice in Copiague. Her practice is heavily concentrated in matrimonial and family law and includes some estate planning as well. She feels fortunate to be both a public health educator and
As an attorney, Debra Brown draws heavily on her years in social work. She explains, “I understand the impact that addiction and chronic illness have on families, and I’m used to working with people in crisis. This is where my skills lie.” Her understanding of community resources has directly benefited the Project’s clients. Multiple times, she has arranged for critical mental health support and critical care coordination services for her pro bono clients during the course of the litigation. Her ability to serve pro bono clients in this enhanced way makes her an exceptional resource of the Project.
Ms. Brown takes a great deal of satisfaction from her work as a divorce/family law attorney. The most rewarding aspect of her work is settling contentious cases before trial. This is especially true when representing clients with minor children, given the toll that divorce trials often have on young children.
Looking back on her earlier Pro Bono Project referrals, Ms. Brown is grateful that she had the opportunity to appear before many different judges. She finds the Project referrals to be a good way to build relationships with judges because they appreciate the pro bono service she is providing. Ms. Brown encourages other attorneys not currently accepting Project referrals to do so, commenting, “Lawyers who don’t do pro bono are missing out on the complete calling of our profession.”
Debra Brown and her wife Sherry Mederos have a large family consisting of three sons and ten grandchildren. In her spare time, Ms. Brown can be found boating and fishing off the South Shore.
The Pro Bono Project is extremely pleased to honor Debra Brown as the Pro Bono Attorney of the Month in light of the generous services she has provided to her pro bono clients over the years. We look forward to our continued work together on behalf of those in need for many years to come.
The Suffolk Pro Bono Project is a joint effort of Nassau Suffolk Law Services, the Suffolk County Bar Association and the Suffolk County Pro Bono Foundation, who, for many years, have joined resources toward the goal of providing free legal assistance to Suffolk County residents who are dealing with economic hardship. Nassau Suffolk Law Services is a non-profit civil legal services agency, providing free legal assistance to Long Islanders, primarily in the areas of benefits advocacy, homelessness prevention (foreclosure and eviction defense), access to health care, and services to special populations such as domestic violence victims, disabled, and adult home resident. The provision of free services is prioritized based on financial need and funding is often inadequate in these areas. Furthermore, there is no funding for the general provision of matrimonial or bankruptcy representation, therefore the demand for pro bono assistance is the greatest in these areas. If you would like to volunteer, please contact Ellen Krakow, Esq. 631 232-2400 x 3323.