The City government participates extensively in New Yorkers' daily lives. It has built and maintains a vast network of roads, bridges, parks, public buildings and other public facilities. The City and its agencies provide essential urban services, such as firefighting, sanitation operations, education through public schools and colleges, and police protection. The City also employs over 300,000 people. This provision of facilities, services, and employment - far beyond what any private entity would undertake - exposes the City to wide tort liability.
The Tort Division is the Law Department's largest division. It employs approximately 300 lawyers and 200 support professionals. The Division represents the City, its agencies and employees who are acting in the scope of their work, in all tort claims in State court. It handles an enormous caseload - over 7,000 new suits each year, with another 24,000 pending - through vigorous investigation, zealous defense and, when appropriate, settlement or trial.
The Division maintains local offices in all five boroughs. The Division is made up of the following units: Borough Units (including General Pre-Trial, Vertical, and Trial groups), the Special State Law Enforcement Defense Unit, the Special Litigation Unit, the Toxic and Mass Tort Unit, the Early Intervention Unit, and the Risk Management Unit. Recent law school graduates typically start their career in the Tort Division in either a Borough General Pre-Trial Unit, the Special State Law Enforcement Defense Unit (its Task-Oriented-Management Group) or, less frequently, one of the Borough Vertical Units.
The Borough General Pre-Trial Units handle tort claims in State court up to the point when the case is scheduled for trial, at which point, the case is transferred to the Borough Trial Unit. Attorneys in the Borough General Pre-Trial Units appear in court for discovery conferences and motion arguments, take and defend depositions, exchange discovery, write discovery and dispositive motions, and conduct settlement negotiations. Attorneys in Borough General Pre-Trial Units are also typically assigned to work on a few trials, while still maintaining their pre-trial work, starting in their second year in the Unit.
Attorneys in the Borough Vertical Units manage their own caseload of tort suits from answer through the case’s disposition via motion, settlement, or trial (as 1st, 2nd, or 3rd chair, depending on the case and the attorney’s experience level).
The Special State Law Enforcement Defense Unit (SLED) defends the City’s Police Department and officers found to have acted in the scope of their employment in cases alleging malicious prosecution, false arrest, or excessive force. The SLED Unit includes the Task-Oriented-Management Group (TOM) as well as vertical attorneys who handle distinct caseloads from inception through disposition through motion, settlement, or trial (as 1st, 2nd, or 3rd chair, depending on the case and the attorney’s experience level). Attorneys assigned to SLED’s TOM group handle cases similarly to the attorneys assigned to the Borough General Pre-Trial Units.
Attorneys in the Special Litigation Unit (SLU) handle tort cases that present the most high-profile and highest-financial exposure to the City. The experienced attorneys who work in this Unit handle these challenging cases from beginning to their resolution, which often spans more than five years. Similarly, attorneys in the Toxic and Mass Tort Unit (TAMTU) handle complex and serious cases alleging toxic and mass torts.
The Early Intervention Unit seeks to resolve meritorious cases as quickly and economically as possible, processes thousands of settlements for payment, secures hundreds of insurance takeovers, and conducts hundreds of representation interviews of City employees and thereafter files amended answers for those employees. The Risk Management Unit identifies risks and tries to eliminate accidents before they happen, ensures the smooth flow of agency discovery and witnesses, and consults with many City agencies regarding contractual indemnification provisions.
What Entry-Level Attorneys Do
Entry Level attorneys in the Tort Division are usually assigned to a Borough General Pre-Trial or Vertical Unit, or to the SLED Unit’s TOM or Vertical Group, based on the needs of the division and considering the interests of the new attorney. When new attorneys start, they take part in an intensive training and orientation program in their first month at the office. Training is then delivered at regular intervals throughout their first year, culminating in a mock trial program.
After the initial intensive training program, new attorneys begin working in their assigned unit and handling cases under supervision. Tort attorneys receive unparalleled opportunities for early litigation experience and responsibility. Soon after they start in their respective units, and under the supervision of experienced attorneys, they conduct depositions, exchange discovery, write motions, and appear on behalf of the City in Small Claims, Civil, and Supreme Court at a variety of court conferences and motion calendars.1
What Summer Interns Do
The Tort Division accepts first- and second-year summer interns. Summer interns are generally placed in a Borough General Pre-Trial Unit, the Special Litigation Unit, SLED or TAMTU. Tort interns gain substantial hands-on litigation experience over their summer. They observe depositions, court conferences, and motion arguments. Interns draft a variety of litigation-related documents, such as affirmative motions, discovery responses, and deposition reports. Interns also usually have the opportunity to take or defend depositions, argue motions in court, and observe trials.1
Read the Law Department's Annual Reports for More Information about the Tort Division
1. Please note that during the pandemic, the Tort Division's processes have changed in accordance with the remote nature of litigation during this time period. As such, the experiences that entry level attorneys and summer interns will have at this time may be different than the above descriptions based on those necessary changes.