Manhattan Legal Services

Manhattan Legal Services

The mission of Manhattan Legal Services is to seek equal justice for low-income residents of Manhattan through the provision of free legal representation, systemic advocacy and community education.  We serve clients with a talented and dedicated staff of 22 attorneys, seven paralegals, and one social worker – all of whom have substantial legal services experience and many of whom are bilingual in Spanish/English, French/English, Mandarin/English and Cantonese/English.

Each year we represent and advise thousands of low income residents of Manhattan who need help with civil legal problems in the areas of housing, government benefits, Supplemental Security Income/Social Security, unemployment, family, employment, immigration, consumer and education law. In addition to these core civil legal services, Manhattan Legal Services’ special projects include the East Side SRO (Single Room Occupancy) Law Project, the Disability Advocacy Project, a general litigation HIV Unit, and a nationally recognized Domestic Violence Unit. We have experts in every area of poverty law.

MLS has a long and successful history of working collaboratively with community-based organizations in the low-income communities of Manhattan including Chinatown, the Lower East Side, Harlem, and Washington Heights/Inwood. We empower clients and their communities by providing holistic, culturally competent and linguistically appropriate legal services which address the multiple legal needs of clients (housing and public assistance or filing for an order of protection while seeking custody, for example). Our advocates seek permanent change in the lives of the low income clients they serve by working with community residents and providers to identify problems and to find solutions to the multiple problems which impact their communities.

 In addition to individual representation, we seek to improve the systems which impact the lives of our low income clients and to empower our clients to make decisions that create positive change in their lives. Thus we work with community partners to address systemic problems such as the treatment of mentally ill people by the welfare system, to oppose gentrification and the loss of affordable housing, to address language access for disabled and immigrant victims of domestic violence seeking police intervention and to oppose illegal activities of debt collectors. We proudly trace our long history back to Harlem Assertion of Rights (later Harlem Legal Services) and MFY Legal Services, both neighborhood-based anti-poverty efforts arising in the 1960’s, and strive to continue that legacy.

Areas of Priority and Special Projects Include:

  • Family
  • Housing
  • Government Benefits
  • Consumer
  • Immigration


(Upper Manhattan)
1 West 125th Street, 2nd Floor
New York, New York 10027
Tel: (646) 442-3100

(Lower Manhattan)
40 Worth Street, Suite 606
New York, New York 10013
Tel: (646) 442-3100


  Peggy Earisman, Project Director

Peggy Earisman has been the Director of Manhattan Legal Services since 2005 after three years of service as interim project director. Her entire thirty-year legal career has been spent in legal services for the poor, starting at Passaic Legal Aid Society in Paterson, New Jersey, then as a Managing Attorney at MFY Legal Services and now at MLS. As the Director she manages this legal services office of over 40 people which offers legal advice and court representation in the fields of housing, public benefits, family, employment, consumer, immigration, education, SSI/Social Security, domestic violence issues and representation of people living with HIV.

Over the course of her long and distinguished career, she has worked to provide high quality legal services in a way that reflects communities' needs and desires. This includes representing public housing tenants and the Public Housing Residents of the Lower East Side (PHROLES) in seeking to enforce their rights to grievance procedures and to retain their homes; obtaining federal land to construct transitional housing for homeless families and litigating the first reported case under the Stewart McKinney Homeless Assistance Act; and helping assert the voices of low-income communities in the Lower Manhattan rebuilding effort after the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attack through representation of the Rebuild Coalition.

A 1980 graduate of Columbia University School of Law, Ms. Earisman was awarded the James B. Larsen Staff Attorney of the year in New Jersey in 1988 and in May 2001 Ms. Earisman was recipient of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York’s annual Legal Services Award.

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