Nearly 40,000 people face eviction each year in Essex County. The number seems overwhelming, but as Eduardo Santiago-Acevedo explains, even if attorneys can assist only a small percentage of families, “for those individuals, it means everything in the world.”
Eduardo, Vice President and Regulatory Counsel with Prudential Financial’s Enterprise Regulatory Law Group, manages the Tenants Facing Eviction Clinic (Tenancy Clinic or Clinic), in collaboration with VLJ and Lowenstein Sandler. The monthly Clinic, located in the Landlord Tenant courthouse, provides free legal assistance to low-income tenants in Essex County facing eviction.
Based in Prudential’s headquarters in Newark, Eduardo handles the Company’s significant regulatory matters and inquiries, including those involving the Department of Labor, Department of Justice, and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), to name a few. He also conducts internal investigations of potential whistleblower concerns and violations of the securities laws.
Eduardo earned his undergraduate degree from Purdue University in Indiana. He attended law school at the University of Puerto Rico and subsequently spent six years practicing commercial litigation at a corporate law firm there. In 1999, Eduardo moved to New York City, where he obtained his LLM from Fordham University School of Law.
Upon graduating, Eduardo worked in the SEC’s Division of Enforcement in New York for more than 12 years. Pro bono work was something that had always interested Eduardo, but his options at the time were limited. After joining Prudential in 2013, however, Eduardo realized how much the company focuses on and encourages corporate social responsibility, including pro bono work for employees in its Legal Department. He quickly became involved. He attended an event where he learned about the pro bono organization, and later about the Tenancy Clinic, which was still in its pilot stage. Now fully launched and with VLJ joining as a partner this year, Eduardo chairs the Tenancy Clinic on behalf of Prudential’s Law Compliance Business Ethics and External Affairs (LCBE) Department. He works to co-manage the Clinic, recruit lawyers from LCBE, publicize the Clinic’s work, and help determine which clients the volunteer attorneys can assist.
“The goal here is, to the extent possible, keeping individuals in their homes,” says Eduardo. “But also we want to make sure that they’re living under conditions that are appropriate.”
Eduardo greatly values the partnership that Prudential has with Lowenstein and VLJ, both of whom are “extremely professional, extremely knowledgeable, and extremely committed.” Eduardo explains, “One of the things that you note right away when you’re working with [VLJ Staff Attorney] Karen [Robinson] and other members of her team is that they truly believe in what they’re doing. They want to not only do the right thing, but they want to do it well.”
Karen Robinson says, “I had the pleasure of partnering with Eduardo during my first Tenancy Clinic and saw firsthand his genuine empathy and keen understanding of our clients’ unique challenges. Our client faced eviction due to nonpayment of rent like the vast majority of those who attend the clinic. We counseled her on the available options and drafted a stipulation of settlement that would allow her to pay the back rent in installments. Her case successfully settled, and she was so appreciative to stay in her home with her daughter.”
Eduardo feels fortunate to work for a company committed to doing the right thing, in the way it conducts business and interacts with the community. He appreciates the Clinic as an opportunity where he can “actually help individuals who would otherwise perhaps not understand their rights or be aware of defenses.”
“The fact that you can, after just a few hours once a month, know that you made a difference in someone’s life,” says Eduardo, “and that family is going to have a roof over their heads – that’s significant.”