VLJ’s tenancy program would be lost without the dedication and generous spirit of Denise Panzer, VLJ’s March 2019 Volunteer of the Month. Denise, the Pro Bono Administrative Coordinator at Lowenstein Sandler, has attended every Tenancy Clinic since the program began in February 2017. Denise is an essential team member at every clinic. She keeps things running smoothly, organizing cases and supporting the volunteer attorneys. Her work for the program outside of the clinic is also invaluable. Denise helps recruit new attorneys to volunteer and coordinates trainings for attorneys from Lowenstein Sandler and its clinic partner, Prudential.
Denise’s commitment to pro bono does not end with VLJ. In her role at Lowenstein, she supports the entire pro bono department, managing intake, tracking, and placement of hundreds of matters each year and providing direct support to the full-time pro bono lawyers who run the practice. Denise also coordinates the name change project with Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, filing name change petitions and attending name change hearings with clients. She is also part of the firm’s LGBTQ Alliance and helps to organize the group’s volunteer events.
Denise is known in her office for organizing other community service efforts, such as book drives, coat and toy collections in the winter, and food drives for various charities. When she delivers donated toys to homeless children in December, she requires more than one sleigh to carry the load. Denise truly has a broad and positive impact on her community.
Denise loves working with VLJ on the tenancy program and shows a real gift for interacting with the clients and advocating on their behalf. When there are walk-ins at the clinic, it is Denise who begs the lawyers to stay late to help them. She admits that some of the cases can be sad – especially when the tenants facing eviction have young children. “For the landlords, it seems like it’s all about the money and not about the people.” But that is why the work that we do is so important. “Before the tenancy clinic, I had no idea so many terrible things went on in Landlord-Tenant Court—not a clue. A lot of people don’t know that these kinds of issues exist.” With Denise’s help, more attorneys volunteer with our clinic, learn about the need for this kind of work, and are able to help our clients resolve their cases successfully.