When he was a new associate at McCarter & English, Brett Kahn attended a luncheon where the firm’s partners discussed the importance of doing pro bono work and highlighted the opportunities for pro bono work with VLJ. After his first experience volunteering on a case, he was hooked. Over the years, Brett has worked on 37 different pro bono cases for VLJ clients. Today, almost a decade after that luncheon, Brett is a partner himself at McCarter & English, welcomed his first child in July, and is still taking on pro bono cases for VLJ.
For New Jersey’s veterans, nagging legal issues such as old criminal convictions or suspended driver’s licenses can derail their lives and make it nearly impossible for them to secure housing and employment. The Veteran’s Legal Program was started with generous funding from PSEG in January 2014 to address the critical legal needs of veterans and active military members. VLJ coordinates regular clinics in conjunction with PSEG where volunteer attorneys assist veterans with their legal challenges and honor their military service. This month, we highlight the work of PSEG attorney Matthew Jokajtys as VLJ’s volunteer of the month for his work with the Veteran’s Legal Program.
A few missed payments on a credit card bill or a student loan can bring consumers into a legal system that seems overwhelming. Volunteer lawyers through VLJ’s Consumer Law Program help to relieve some of the pressure felt by these consumers. This month, we highlight the work of Rob Nussbaum of Saiber LLC. Rob’s practice at Saiber has centered on civil litigation including collection work, construction litigation, and personal injury defense work. That experience in civil litigation made Rob a natural fit for VLJ’s Consumer Law Program.
Victims of human sex trafficking face not only the private trauma of coercion and exploitation, but also, all too often, a very public record of their ordeal in the form of a criminal history if they have been forced into prostitution and related offenses. Having a criminal record wrongly stigmatizes trafficking victims and survivors and can prevent them from finding employment, stable housing, and the other basic services that are necessary to move on with their lives. But, as attorney Meredith Walsh has experienced firsthand, that’s where a lawyer can step in to help. By helping trafficking victims use a state law passed for the express purpose of vacating their criminal records, Meredith and other pro bono attorneys give their clients a fresh start.
For many professionals, the greatest obstacle to volunteering is finding the time. But Prudential’s Kathleen DeCelie says this doesn’t have to be the case. She points to her experience, volunteering through VLJ, which has provided a variety of pro bono opportunities suitable to her schedule as a full-time attorney, wife and mother of two. “You choose how long and how much you want to do. You can volunteer for four to five hours, no more. And when you do, I promise that you will win,” says Kathleen. Nonetheless, she feels fortunate to work at a company where there is not only a commitment to pro bono but also an encouragement to do so.
Making a positive impact on the community can take many different forms – whether it’s volunteering at a limited-scope legal clinic, serving on the board of a legal services organization, or even founding a non-profit to provide assistance in another country. VLJ volunteer and BASF attorney Sneha Desai has done it all.
Declaring bankruptcy is a difficult decision for anyone to make, and successfully navigating the complex bankruptcy process is also difficult, if not impossible, to do without the assistance of legal counsel. That is where volunteers like bankruptcy attorney Paul Evangelista step in to help provide the much-needed pro bono bankruptcy assistance to low-income debtors. Doing his part to ensure that justice is accessible to everyone, Paul has been volunteering with VLJ’s Bankruptcy Program for over a year now, representing indigent debtors in filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions.
The school-to-prison pipeline – a disturbing national trend in which children, especially those who are minorities or have disabilities, are pushed out of the classroom and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems – has made national headlines in recent years, with much discussion on how to address this problem. For attorney Becky Rosenfeld, it meant a career change – from representing defendants in criminal matters to going back to the start: school.
Paralegals are an integral part of the practice of law. The American Bar Association recognizes that paralegals can enhance lawyers’ abilities to offer paid and pro bono services. That is also true of the role of paralegals as volunteers with VLJ, including longtime Consumer Law Clinic volunteer Maryann McGrath. Maryann is a paralegal at AT&T, currently focusing on domestic and international corporate governance. Maryann has volunteered with the Consumer Law Clinic every month for the past 5 years.
For a new attorney, several reasons might serve as deterrents to taking on a pro bono case: it might be a lot of work; it’s likely an area of law the attorney knows little about; or maybe it’s just difficult to know where to begin. But Kelly Lloyd Lankford has experienced firsthand the benefits of pro bono work, and wants to reassure other young attorneys that it can be a positive experience.
Kelly is a Senior Managing Associate at Dentons. Kelly has volunteered with VLJ for the past several years and recently accepted a position as co-chair of VLJ’s Generation Now.