President and Attorney-in-Charge

President and Attorney-in-Charge

Office of the Appellate Defender

New York, NY   |   June 18, 2020

About the Office of the Appellate Defender

The Office of the Appellate Defender (OAD) is one of New York City’s oldest providers of indigent defense and appellate representation of poor people convicted of felonies. Since its founding in 1988, OAD has worked to ensure that poor people convicted of felonies receive full and equal access to justice by providing exceptional appellate representation, improving the quality of the indigent defense representation through education and training, and advocating for systemic reform of New York City’s criminal justice system. By dedicating itself to innovation and remaining flexible and responsive to emerging criminal justice needs, OAD has set itself apart from traditional appellate defender offices and established itself as a national model for indigent appellate defense representation.

OAD has a staff of approximately 30 talented lawyers and client services professionals that share in their commitment to holistic and creative work to support clients. Through a combination of government contracts and fundraising from law firms, corporations, and other private donors, the organization has a budget of roughly $4M. The annual First Monday event, hosted by OAD, serves as one of the premier functions in New York City’s legal community every year.

Conceived as a training office, OAD is dedicated to core values of teaching and learning. This approach is continued through a rotation of attorneys every three years, a Criminal Appellate Defender Clinic housed at New York University Law School, and a Volunteer Appellate Defender (VAD) program that allows attorneys at private law firms to serve as co-counsel with OAD attorneys on criminal appeals. In addition to OAD’s successes in court victories, its alumni have also gone on to hold significant positions in not-for-profit organizations, government agencies, prestigious law firms, and the judiciary. Numerous appellate defenders have replicated OAD’s training model.

OAD recognized early in its history that people in the criminal appellate process have pressing needs beyond the filing of a compelling legal brief. As the first indigent appellate office to add a social worker to its permanent staff, OAD’s Client Services team provides social work support for clients on matters that fall outside of the expertise of lawyers. OAD’s Reinvestigation Project identifies potential cases of wrongful conviction and, where appropriate, file petitions for relief. Multiple OAD clients have had their convictions reversed thanks to this critical function.

The transition of outgoing President and Attorney-in-Charge Christina Swarns presents the opportunity for new ideas and fresh thinking to enter and build on OAD’s effective internal infrastructure, dedicated staff and Board, and longstanding success in appellate work.

The Opportunity

The President and Attorney-in-Charge of the Office of the Appellate Defender will serve as the executive director, overseeing the organization’s programs and services, administrative operations, resource development, internal and external communications, and Board relations. Partnering with the staff and Board of Directors, the President and Attorney-in-Charge will maintain fidelity to OAD’s mission while ensuring sound business principles and leading a vision for greater impact in the coming years.

Position Responsibilities

Ideal candidates for the President and Attorney-in-Charge will bring a passion for appellate representation of indigent defendants and leadership experience in legal organizations or offices. With comfort in fundraising and a love of relationship-building, top candidates will have experience mobilizing resources for an organization or cause and will be skilled as an external spokesperson. They will be naturally drawn to partnership and collaboration, with the ability to envision and leverage opportunities for learning and growth. As OAD continues its interest in building diversity and inclusion internally, top candidates will be committed to leading and growing these values.

This is a full-time role, based in New York City. At the time of this writing, OAD’s operations are remote, due to the impact and policies of COVID-19. Leadership and organizational sustainability in the context of COVID-19 will be a core responsibility of the President and Attorney-in-Charge going forward.

Additional responsibilities of the President and Attorney-in-Charge include, but are not limited to:

External Relations

  • Serve as chief fundraiser and spokesperson for OAD, overseeing relationships with City and State government and corporate funders, as well as private donors, including foundations and high-net worth individuals
  • Identify and diversify funding streams for OAD to leverage new opportunities and build on existing partnerships with law firms and other funders
  • Represent OAD in the media, increase public awareness, and broaden the organization’s reputation with constituents
  • Build and strengthen relationships with partner organizations and other stakeholders to support criminal justice practice and reform
  • Establish and implement a vision for OAD’s continued growth, while staying true to OAD’s core mission

General Management, Finance and Administration, and Program

  • Apply effective management and leadership to ensure that day-to-day operations are professionally and efficiently organized and administered
  • Direct legal work and supervision, in partnership with current senior staff
  • Oversee the organization’s financial operations, including the budgetary process, and ensure that sound financial security and controls are in place
  • Lead, coach, recruit, and retain a cohesive, diverse, and committed staff, ensuring strong internal communication and coordination within a supportive environment
  • Use and strengthen technology to facilitate organizational management, fundraising, and legal work

Board Relations

  • Actively engage and energize the Board around OAD programming and fundraising
  • Work with the Board to identify and help recruit new Board Members who will add diversity of background and thought to further OAD’s mission
  • Regularly brief the Board on the status of the organization
  • Engage the Board in meaningful participation to further the organization’s goals
Candidate Profile

The ideal candidate will have the following professional skills, qualities, and competencies:

  • Demonstrated commitment to and expertise in criminal justice and public defense; litigation and/or appellate experience and admittance in the New York Bar are required
  • Proven fundraising, managerial, and financial management experience in the private, not-for-profit, or public sectors
  • Experience connecting organizations to resources and external opportunities; a successful track record of raising funds from a variety of sources
  • Collaborative and transparent style of management
  • Exceptional communications skills, including experience writing, speaking, and presenting to a wide variety of audiences
  • Excellent interpersonal skills; ability to rapidly build and maintain meaningful relationships with staff, partner organizations, donors, Board Members, clients, and press
  • Ambitious, creative, and visionary approach in all areas, from organizational goal-setting and planning to individual case management to organization infrastructure
  • A track record of commitment to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion, including race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, family status, and disability

Koya Leadership Partners, the executive search firm that specializes in mission-driven search, has been exclusively retained for this engagement. Melissa Madzel and Molly Brennan are leading this search. To make recommendations or to express your interest in this role please click HERE.

All nominations, inquiries, and discussions will be considered strictly confidential.

For more information on the Office of the Appellate Defender, please visit its website:


OAD is an Equal Opportunity Employer. OAD provides equal employment opportunities without regard to race, creed, color religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, pregnancy, marital status, age, veteran status, disability or genetic information. OAD welcomes and encourages interest from women, people of color, individuals from the LGBTQ+ community, and others from underrepresented backgrounds in the criminal justice space.

About Koya Leadership Partners

Koya Leadership Partners, a member of the Diversified Search Group, is a leading executive search and strategic advising firm dedicated to connecting exceptionally talented people with mission-driven clients. Our founding philosophy—The Right Person in the Right Place Can Change the World—guides our work as we partner with nonprofits & NGOs, institutions of higher education, responsible businesses, and social enterprises in local communities and around the world.

For more information about Koya Leadership Partners, visit