Jennifer Ching is Project Director of Queens Legal Services, which is a program of Legal Services NYC. Ching graduated from New York University School of Law in 2000, where she was the co-editor-in-chief of the New York University Review of Law & Social Change. After graduation, she was a Skadden Fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, where she founded the Immigrant Workers’ Rights Project, and a Gibbons Fellow in Public Interest Law and Constitutional Litigation before leading the New York office of Appleseed, a national network of public interest justice centers. Ching then made a foray into law-firm practice at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison before heading to Queens.
What’s a case or client or piece of advocacy that comes to mind as giving you particular personal satisfaction? Why?
Nothing gets me more excited than when we can connect the dots across our practices and work with our clients to pursue both individual justice and broader reform. In the past year, we’ve worked with our domestic violence clients to seek reforms to public housing and police practices, and with local residents to voice community-based reforms in the post-Sandy rebuilding process. In the coming year, we're going to be working with clients to develop a Queens Legal Services speakers’ bureau and client-focused leadership program.
What’s a case or client or piece of advocacy that comes to mind as causing you particular anxiety? Why?
As the head of my office, I get the very glamorous job of handling complaints from community members whom we are unable to serve. These conversations are always difficult, as we are a few dozen folks serving a community of 2.5 million people. I spend a lot of my time working with community members to think through solutions under impossible circumstances. This year, we’re looking at different ways to make our work with prospective clients as efficient and productive as possible and to maximize our limited resources, whether through technology on one end of the spectrum, or more substantive trainings and partnerships with our community partners.
If you were in charge, what’s one way (other than having more funding!) that public interest legal work would be different?
I really recommend programs talk about emergency planning, from both a program infrastructure perspective as well as an advocacy perspective.
Every day, I challenge myself and my decisions—is there another way to do this? How can we better support our clients and our advocates? Are we choosing the easier path? From an administrative perspective, I would change the growing reporting requirements from funders. If there could be a more “Common App” approach to data collection, it would help us immensely. We spend a significant amount of time processing the varied and extensive data requests from various funders, setting up new methods of data collection through our case management system, and asking clients for increasingly intrusive information. I know there are many exciting data initiatives now happening in the public interest legal world; I'd love (nerd alert!) to see some sort of conference convened looking at best practices in this field.
Your work was directly affected by Hurricane Sandy. What lessons did you learn from the storm and what impact does it continue to have on your program?
Hurricane Sandy changed our daily reality. We lost thousands of affordable housing units, and households faced a range of expenses—from replacing food, job loss to lost homes—that have led to significant ripples of need. For the first six months of 2013, we were focused on intense emergencies; since the summer, our work has turned to addressing the longer-term challenges, the barriers that we now see affecting our clients who are most in need and who have remained largely outside the programs that provided aid. I really recommend programs talk about emergency planning, from both a program infrastructure perspective as well as an advocacy perspective. One of the best results of Sandy has been collaborative efforts across the bar and public interest legal community, strengthening what had started with post-9/11 efforts and Katrina, and hopefully institutionalizing some depth of knowledge and strategies to both respond to immediate needs as well as create advocacy platforms for the longer haul.
What’s one of your guilty pleasures?
I’m one of those people who chronically complains about lack of time—incredibly busy (but fun!) job, two young children, family obligations, long commute. These are the reasons I typically tick off when I’m complaining about not exercising or writing the Great American Novel. I love New York City; the moments I steal after a meeting, before I hop onto the subway again, doing something as small as getting a pan de bono from a Colombian bakery—well, I just fall in love with New York City every day.
Jennifer Ching can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.