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National Lawyers Guild Records

Call Number



1921-2014, ongoing, inclusive
; 1937-1990, bulk


National Lawyers Guild
Rabinowitz, Victor
Haney, Thomas M. (Role: Donor)
Tobol, Amy Ruth (Role: Donor)
Yoder, Tracy (Role: Donor)


311.25 Linear Feet
in 315 boxes


8 CDs


10 websites
in 10 archived websites.

Language of Materials

Materials are in English


The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) was founded in 1937 as an association of progressive lawyers and jurists who believed that lawyers had a major role to play in reconstructing legal values by emphasizing human rights over property rights. The Guild is the oldest and most extensive network of public interest and human rights activists working within the legal system. This collection includes early administrative records of the Guild, primarily those of its National Office and New York City Chapter, as well as materials describing legal and political activities of many of the Guild's chapters and committees. The bulk of the collection, however, is focused on the court case which revealed that the Guild had been the target of a forty-year covert Federal Bureau of Investigation campaign of surveillance, infiltration and intimidation (National Lawyers Guild v. Attorney General, 1977-1989). Through this legal action, the Guild successfully compelled the release of more than 400,000 pages of FBI documentation on the Guild and its members. This material, along with associated case files, is included in the collection.

Historical Note

The Great Depression, with its social and political upheavals, also had its effects upon the nation's professional communities. Millions of workers -- native and foreign-born, black and white, male and female -- were being recruited to the ranks of organized labor. On the international scene, the rise of fascism in Europe was viewed with growing alarm on the left, and, by 1936, the first armed conflict again fascist forces was underway in Spain. The advent of the New Deal was also releasing forces for social progress and reform in every sector of the population. Little of this was reflected in the composition or activities of the American Bar Association and other professional legal organizations. Growing numbers of members of the profession were dissatisfied with the failure of their organizations to react to these dramatic social/political changes. This discontent found organizational expression in the formation of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) in Feb 1937. Its avowed purposes would be to protect democratic institutions, individual rights, and advance "the legal well-being of the legal profession." (Weinberg and Fassler, Historical Sketch, p.1) Among the Guild's founding members were Morris Ernst, Jerome Frank, Senator Albert Wald, Frank Walsh, and the general counsels of both the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations. From its inception, the Guild welcomed into its ranks all members of the profession without regard to race, gender or ethnic identity; it was the first national legal professional association to do so.

The Guild's membership worked actively on a wide variety of issues. At the outset, it was instrumental in drafting, administering and litigating much progressive New Deal legislation. At the same time, it challenged all forms of discrimination and opposed limitations on the right of free speech. It also fought vigorously for the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively. Many NLG members cooperated with the Congress of Industrial Organizations, and NLG work helped to shape the legal precedents that were later incorporated into labor law by the National Labor Relations Board.

The NLG's commitment to the right of freedom of expression became particularly meaningful with the establishment of a number of Congressional investigating committees, starting with the Dies Committee in the 1930s and continuing in the post-World War II period with the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) and the McCarthy and McCarran Committees in the Senate. The Guild was steadfast in its opposition to the attempts of these committees to investigate the opinions and associations of private individuals. It also condemned the infringement of First Amendment rights by the federal loyalty program instituted by the Truman Administration. Similarly, it opposed the Smith Act prosecutions of the leaders of the Communist Party (later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court) and the requirement for registration of alleged "subversive" organizations under the Internal Security Act, also later declared unconstitutional. The Guild was vocal in its condemnation of abuses of individual rights by the F.B.I., for example, wiretapping, mail tampering, illegal searches and prying into citizens' beliefs and associations. It was also outspoken in seeking equal protection for the foreign born. During the McCarthy period Guild members defended many of the men and women who were subpoenaed by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and House Un-American Activities Committee.

Another important aspect of the Guild's work was its service in the communities. It established neighborhood law offices to serve people living in urban slums and provided advice to tenant councils, consumer groups and other community organizations. After its founding as a national organization in 1937, the Guild began establishing chapters in such cities as New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, and San Francisco.

In 1944, the Guild's National Executive Board submitted a statement on the subject of punishment of war criminals and, as a result, was invited by the United States prosecutor, Justice Robert Jackson, to be official observers at the Nuremberg trials. Soon after, the U.S. State Department asked the Guild to act as an advocate/consultant to the U.S. delegation at the founding conference of the United Nations in San Francisco.

After World War II, the Guild was outspoken in its opposition to the nuclear arms race and urged a ban on all such weapons. It fought vigorously against the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 which rolled back many of the protections the labor movement had secured a decade earlier under the Wagner Act.

From the beginning the Guild played an important role in the civil rights movement. In 1947, it convened a conference in order to respond to the lynching crisis in the South. As part of its commitment to civil liberties, it also furnished representation to the "Hollywood Ten" - writers and directors called to testify before and later jailed by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) for refusing to act as informers. The Guild also defended many veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade who had fought against fascism in Spain during the Spanish Civil War and were subjected to political persecution in later decades.

In the 1950s, HUAC labeled the Guild as a "Communist-front" organization and issued a publication entitled "The National Lawyers Guild: Legal Bulwark of the Communist Party." Attorney General Herbert Brownell asserted that the Guild was controlled by the Communist Party and attempted to label it a subversive organization dominated by a foreign power. He brought proceedings in 1953 which dragged on until 1958, at which time the Justice Department dropped its efforts because its evidence was deemed insufficient.

After a period of relative inactivity, the Guild responded quickly and energetically in support of the civil rights movement of the 1960s by establishing its Committee for Legal Assistance in 1962 to provide legal resources for those fighting racism and injustice in the South. It co-sponsored the first integrated bar conference in the South and opened the first office that provided legal representation to the civil rights movement. It also created the Committee to Aid Southern Lawyers and sent attorneys to the Southern states to represent civil rights activists.

During the late 1960s, the Guild worked closely with the peace movement defending many draft resisters and others who opposed the war in Vietnam. Student chapters of the NLG were formed in many cities. In the course of the decade the Guild was wracked by internal strains common to many old left organizations facing new challenges and a new generation of youthful activists. A rival progressive lawyers group, the Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee, had emerged from the civil rights and anti-poverty movements and soon had chapters in most law schools. Eventually a cooperative relationship between the two organizations was worked out, and the Guild entered a period of renewed vitality under the presidency of prominent civil liberties attorney Victor Rabinowitz.

In the 1970s the NLG was actively involved in the struggles for affirmative action and women's and gay rights; organized defense teams for Native-American defendants from Wounded Knee; incarcerated people charged in connection with the Attica Prison uprising; and supported self-determination for Palestine and opposed apartheid in South Africa.

A new generation of legal activists during the 1980s organized support for the anti-nuclear movement and for groups opposing U. S. intervention in Central America and the NLG National Immigration Project began working on issues spurred by the need to represent Central American refugees and asylum activists fleeing Nicaragua and El Salvador. In 1989 the organization finally prevailed in its lawsuit against the FBI for carrying out illegal political surveillance.

Guild members mobilized in the 1990s in opposition to the Gulf War, defended the rights of Haitian refugees, opposed the blockade of Cuba and began to define a new civil rights agenda that included the right to employment, education, housing and health care.

Guild members continue into the twenty-first century using their experience and professional skills to support environmental and labor rights activists, fight for social justice, protect civil liberties and encourage respect for the Constitution and international law.


Erlinder, Peter, History, National Lawyers Guild. , December 4, 2007.Weinberg, Doron and Marty Fassler, A Historical Sketch of the National Lawyers Guild in American Politics, 1936-1968. National Lawyers Guild, n.d. Photocopy in Tamiment Library Vertical File: National Lawyers Guild.


The folders in Part 1 are arranged chronologically, except in series IV, XII, and XIV, which are arranged alphabetically. Arrangement of Part 2 varies, with most subseries in alphabetic sequence. Some of the subseries are arranged chronologically. Series I: Subseries B, which contains records of NLG national conventions, is an example of folders arranged by year. A number of subseries containing NLG v. AG court documents are also in date order. A few of the subseries, particularly those containing released government documents, reflect the order imposed by the FBI.

Part 1 is organized into 15 series and Part 2 is organized into 19 series. The first six contain material from the National Office and the New York City Chapter. The next seven involve the court case National Lawyers Guild v. Attorney General. Two series contain records from recent accretions, which are grouped roughly by creator or topic. The remaining series are grouped by format.

Part 1, Series I. Board of Directors (NYC Chapter) and Executive Board, 1937-1969

Part 1, Series II. Executive Officers, 1936-1968

Part 1, Series III. Statements, Resolutions, and Publicity Materials, 1937-1969

Part 1, Series IV. NLG Committees, 1937-1969

Part 1, Series V. Membership Records, 1938-1969

Part 1, Series VI. Chapter Records, 1937-1968

Part 1, Series VII. Convention Records, 1937-1968

Part 1, Series VIII. Publications, 1941-1967

Part 1, Series IX. Dinners, Events and Conferences, 1937-1978

Part 1, Series X. Political Issues, Including Government Investigations, 1942-1968

Part 1, Series XI. Legislation, 1936-1961

Part 1, Series XII. Cases: General Files, 1934-1967

Part 1, Series XIII. Correspondence, 1939-1969

Part 1, Series XIV. Subject Files, 1936-1976

Part 1, Series XV: Addendum, 1937-1968

Part 2, Series I. National Office Administrative and Organizational Records, 1931-2003

Part 2, Series II. National Office Programmatic Records, 1944-2001

Part 2, Series III. National Office Resource/Reference Material, 1949-1999

Part 2, Series IV. Publications and Press Materials, 1938-2004

Part 2, Series V. New York City Chapter Files - Administrative, 1937-2007

Part 2, Series VI. New York City Chapter Files - Programmatic, 1945-1985

Part 2, Series VII. NLG v. AG. Court Documents, Formal File, 1947-1990

Part 2, Series VIII. NLG v. AG. Discovery, 1921-1987

Part 2, Series IX. NLG v. AG. Reverse Discovery, 1937-1987

Part 2, Series X. NLG v. AG. Research, 1937-1988

Part 2, Series XI. NLG v. AG. Working Papers, 1936-1988

Part 2, Series XII. NLG v. AG. Administrative Material, 1937-1986

Part 2, Series XIII. NLG v. AG. Subject Files, 1930-1988

Part 2, Series XIV. 2014 Accretion, 1970s-1997

Part 2, Series XV. 2015 Accretion, 1960-2014

Part 2, Series XVI. Audiocassettes, 1981-1995

Part 2, Series XVII. Photographs, 1940s-1995

Part 2, Series XVIII. Archived Websites, 2007-ongoing

Part 2, Series XIX. Oral Histories

Scope and Contents

Part 1 of this collection documents the founding, development and day-to-day administration of the National Lawyers Guild from 1937 to 1969. Materials include the correspondence, agenda and minutes of the Board of Directors, the National Executive Board and the NYC Chapter Executive Board. Correspondence and other records also document in the work of the Executive Officers and their relations with NLG staff in several regions. The positions of the Guild on issues of the day are documented in resolutions, press releases, mailings and reports to members. Part I of the collections also includes records from NLG committees, including the Committee on Academic Freedom, the Civil Liberties and Civil Rights Committees, the Constitutional Liberties Committee, the Criminal Law Committee, the Labor Law Committee, the Committee on Professional Problems, the Committee on Social Legislation and several others. Membership records include correspondence, membership lists and a large number of resignation letters from members when the Guild was under attack from the Attorney General. The NYC Chapter is well represented in this collection, and the Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and San Francisco chapters are also included. Materials pertaining to the Guild's conventions between 1937 and 1968 are included in Part I of this collection, including planning information, correspondence between board members, speeches made at conventions, and resolutions passed by the Guild. Records relating to other events, such as honoree dinners, theater parties and fundraising events are also included.

The Guild produced a number of publications, including the Lawyers Guild Review, the New York Guild Lawyer, Civil Liberties Docket, and the Guild Lawyer. The records for these publications are included in this collection. The Guild's response to Congressional hearings, subversive activities bills, HUAC operations, political attacks on Guild itself and political matters related to civil rights is also documented, as well as legislative initiatives on which the Guild acted, or upon which it took a position. Case and general files include background material on cases handled by the Guild, or in which it had a role, including Eisler v. the U.S., the Smith Act trials, the Rosenberg Case and others. Most of the cases are on the federal level, but there is also a substantial amount of material documenting cases at the state level. Subject files include a wide variety of topics of interest to the Guild. Of special note is material on the House Un-American Activities Committee. Included are clippings files maintained by the New York office. Correspondence files consist mostly of correspondence between the officers of various chapters and the national presidents. Additional correspondence and subject files can be found in the Addendum to Part 1.

Part 2 of this collection consists of subsequent donations, including National Office records, NYC Chapter records and files related to NLG v. Attorney General. Records of the National Executive Board and National Executive committee include minutes and related files, a variety of materials from most of the NLG's national conventions from 1973-2003 and a wide range of general administrative and organizational files. The activities of the NLG, including formal committees, legal work and general files reflecting projects, campaigns, endorsements, delegations, conferences, Guild positions and areas of activism and advocacy are documented, in particular through a relatively large section of the papers of Arthur Kinoy. The interested of the NLG National Office are also represented in legal cases of interest and various subject files. Also included are publications and related correspondence of the National Lawyers Guild, as well as non-NLG publications that were contained within the National Office files, and publicity materials such as clippings. The NYC Chapter is represented in this collection through administrative records such as minutes of the chapter's Executive Committee; materials generated by administrative committees; correspondence; files on chapter events; files relating to finances and membership; publications and resource material; as well as a wide variety of material describing the chapter's programmatic activities and advocacy.

The bulk of this collection reflects the Rabinowitz, Boudin formal case file on the NLG v. AG suit, including briefs, depositions, discoveries, opinions, summary judgments, transcripts, correspondence and the settlement. Discovery materials reflect the massive amount of information the NLG was able to obtain from the Government during the course of this litigation. There is a small amount of supporting documentation for the various Discovery methods, as well as material focused on FOIA requests initiated by the NLG and by individual NLG members. The formal file of discovery documents and is followed by released government documents of the following types: National Lawyers Guild, as an overall organization; individual NLG members; informants; FBI Field Offices; specific FBI programs; specific NLG activities; and other government agencies. Also included are Privilege Logs. It should be noted that, within the various categories of released documents, a number of folders are labeled "See References." This indicates that the National Lawyers Guild, the Guild member, or the specific topic on the folder label is not the subject of the enclosed documents; however, while investigating someone or something else, the FBI made mention of the Guild or a related person/topic. The litigation forced the FBI to reveal the inclusion of the Guild or its members even when they were the victim of 'indirect' surveillance. There is also material related to attempts by the Government to obtain information from the National Lawyers Guild. In addition to the defendants' interrogatories and documents produced by the NLG, the series contains a great deal of information collected by the NLG legal team during the reverse discovery process. The bulk of this material was submitted in response to a request sent to all NLG chapters and the national office. Other materials pertaining to NLG v. AG include research conducted by the NLG's legal team, including the contents of formal case files addressing Guild History as well as legal and factual material, and litigation (related cases, political cases, cases involving John and Louise Rees, and other cases of interest). Throughout the life of the case, a great deal of paper was generated as a result of selecting materials, copying and annotating, analyzing, summarizing, drafting documents and making various notes. A wide variety of working files include three formal files concerning plaintiff response to interrogatories, factual information and document analysis, and analyses of FBI information on individual NLG members, specific time periods and specific topics; special forms developed by the legal team such as evidencing documents and incident forms; logs and summaries; index materials; and many notes and annotations. There are specific working papers developed during discovery and summary judgment preparation as well as personal files kept by Ann Mari Buitrago, who led the data analysis process. Finally, administrative material pertaining to NLG v. AG includes finances and fund raising, office space, outreach, press and publicity; as well as additional subject files from the legal team are also included.

More recent accretions consist of files created by individuals working in NLG regional offices and records related to commitee meetings, conventions, and publications. Records added to the collection in 2014 contain the files of Amy Ruth Tobol, who served as NLG National Vice President (1992-1994) and Vice President NYC Chapter (1988-1991), related to her work on the National Executive Committee and with the New York City chapter between the 1980s and 1990s. They also include the files of Thomas Haney, documenting his work for the NLG's Military Law Office and Chicago regional branch in the 1970s. Additional materials added to the collection in 2015 consist of National Executive Committee meeting records, publications, conference programs, press clippings, and photographs. National Executive Committee records largely date from the 1990s and consist of meeting minutes, budgets, nominations, membership reports, committee correspondence, and regional committee reports. Publications and official reports included among these materials largely address issues of international human rights focusing on Israel and Palestine, South Africa, the War on Terror, and US intervention in Latin America. Other publications include copies NLG referral directories from 1986 – 2009, banquet and conference programs, and issues of periodicals created by affiliated student organizations.

This collection contains 209 cassette tapes, recording NLG convention sessions (1987, 1989 and 1995). These sessions touch on a wide variety of topics of interest to the Guild and its members. Among the remaining tapes are radio broadcasts, meetings and presentations. Approximately four hundred photographs document NLG conferences and events, and include many individual and group portraits. The NYC Chapter is particularly well represented in the photographs, and the Chicago and Detroit Chapters are also included. Additionally the collection contains six oral history interviews contained on 8 CD-Rs. Interviews were recorded between 1986-1988 and one in 2010, and feature interviews with several Guild lawyers. The collection also contains the websites for the National Lawyers Guild and three of their projects: National Lawyers Guild International Committee, National Immigration Project, and the National Police Accountability Project.

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions with the exception of CD 4-6 located in box 311 of Part 2, Series XIX, which are restricted until December 2021.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright (and related rights to publicity and privacy) to materials in this collection created was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder.

Materials in this collection created by the U.S. government are in the public domain. Permission to publish or reproduce is not required.

Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:

Identification of item, date; National Lawyers Guild Records; TAM 191; box number; folder number;
Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

To cite the archived website in this collection: Identification of item, date; National Lawyers Guild Records; TAM 191; Wayback URL; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.

Location of Materials

Materials are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use. Please request materials at least two business days prior to your research visit to coordinate access.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by the Victor Rabinowitz on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild, 1999. Photographs in this collection were originally established as a separate collection and were received in three donations. Photographs were incorporated into this collection in 2014. Amy Ruth Tobol and Thomas Haney sent a donation of records related to their work with the National Lawyers Guild in 2014 In 2016, Tracy Yoder sent an additional donation of convention and publications records. In 2017, oral histories found in repository were added to the collection. The accession numbers associated with these gifts are 1997.027, 1997.046, NPA.2005.080, NPA. 2008.047, 2014.107, 2014.146, and 2015.015.

Websites were initially selected by curators and captured through the use of The California Digital Library's Web Archiving Service in 2007 as part of the Other Left Activism Web Archive. In 2012, crawling was stopped for,, and In 2015, this website was migrated to Archive-It. Archive-It uses web crawling technology to capture websites at a scheduled time and displays only an archived copy, from the resulting WARC file, of the website. In 2018,,, and were re-added. The accession number associated with this accretion is 2019.107. In April 2020, the URL to redirected to and was added to the web archive. The accession number associated with this website is 2020.033. In May 2020,,, and was added. The accession number associaed with these websites is 2020.047. In February 2021, Google documents and were added. The accession number associated with these websites is 2021.070. In December 2023, was added. The accession number associated with this website is 2024.003.

Custodial History

The National Lawyers Guild records were acquired by the Tamiment Library in a series of accessions, from 1997 to 2007. Materials from the initial donation (Part I of this finding aid) were at one time housed at the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta, Georgia. During the NLG v. Attorney General litigation, the materials were transferred back to the Guild and its legal representatives. The bulk of the collection was donated by Victor Rabinowitz who served briefly as Guild president and whose firm represented the Guild in National Lawyers Guild v. Attorney General.

Audiovisual Access Policies and Procedures

Access to audiovisual materials in this collection is available through digitized access copies. Researchers may view an item's original container, but the media themselves are not available for playback because of preservation concerns. Materials that have already been digitized are noted in the collection's finding aid and can be requested in our reading room. Materials not yet digitized will need to have access copies made before they can be used. To request an access copy, or if you are unsure if an item has been digitized, please contact [repository contact information] with the collection name, collection number, and a description of the item(s) requested. A staff member will respond to you with further information.


Photocopies and published materials including copies of National Lawyers Guild (NLG) periodicals, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report, and photocopies of documents from the NLG Records were removed from the 2015 accretion during accessioning.

Take Down Policy

Archived websites are made accessible for purposes of education and research. NYU Libraries have given attribution to rights holders when possible; however, due to the nature of archival collections, we are not always able to identify this information.

If you hold the rights to materials in our archived websites that are unattributed, please let us know so that we may maintain accurate information about these materials.

If you are a rights holder and are concerned that you have found material on this website for which you have not granted permission (or is not covered by a copyright exception under US copyright laws), you may request the removal of the material from our site by submitting a notice, with the elements described below, to the repository email.

Please include the following in your notice: Identification of the material that you believe to be infringing and information sufficient to permit us to locate the material; your contact information, such as an address, telephone number, and email address; a statement that you are the owner, or authorized to act on behalf of the owner, of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed and that you have a good-faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law; a statement that the information in the notification is accurate and made under penalty of perjury; and your physical or electronic signature. Upon receiving a notice that includes the details listed above, we will remove the allegedly infringing material from public view while we assess the issues identified in your notice.

Separated Materials

Videotapes from the National Lawyers Guild Records have been transferred to the Non-Print Department of the Tamiment Library. Two badges from the 12th Convention of the National Lawyers Guild (1953) were transferred to the 2005 Ephemera and Relia accessions.

Related Material at the Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Victor Rabinowitz Papers (TAM 123)

Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard and Krinsky Records (TAM 287)

Jeanne Mirer Papers (TAM 383)

Related Materials Elsewhere

At the University of California at Berkeley are two collections: The National Lawyers Guild Records, 1937-1999, and the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute Collections, both accessible via the following url:

Collection processed by

Part I - Keri A. Myers, 2004; Part II - Jan Hilley, 2006-2007.

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2024-02-06 14:01:56 -0500.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Finding aid is written in English

Processing Information

Photographs separated from this collection during processing were established as a separate collection, the National Lawyers Guild Photographs (PHOTOS 209). In 2014, the photograph collection was reincorporated into the National Lawyers Guild Records (TAM 191).

A set of records donated in 2014 were added to the collection as Series XIV: 2014 Accretion. The organization's archived website was also added as a new series in 2014. In 2016, additional materials donated in 2015 were added as Series XV: 2015 Accretion. Oral history recordings were added to this collection in 2017 as Part 2, Series XIX: Oral Histories. In 2018, 2020-2021, and 2024, additional websites were added to the finding aid.

Revisions to this Guide

January 2014: Edited by Maggie Schreiner for compliance with DACS and Tamiment Required Elements for Archival Description and to reflect the incorporation of nonprint materials
July 2014: Edited by Maggie Schreiner to reflect updated administrative information
October 2014: Edited by Heather Mulliner to reflect incorporation of 2014 accretion
September 2016: Edited by Heather Mulliner to reflect incorporation of 2015 accretion
September 2017: Edited by Heather Mulliner to reflect incorporation of oral history series
January 2024: Edited by Nicole Greenhouse to reflect added archived websites and updated administrative information

Edition of this Guide

This version was derived from National Lawyers Guild.doc


Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012