It’s easy to get started with us. Read over the program descriptions below and then take a few moments to fill out our volunteer form. Attorneys can volunteer in a number of different ways--- you can take a full representation case, volunteer at a limited-scope legal clinic, lead a legal information seminar, become a mentor to less experienced volunteers, lead a volunteer attorney training, and more.
After completing our Volunteer Form, you will receive a copy of VLJ’s Volunteer Handbook and be added to VLJ’s listserve to begin receiving VLJ’s bi-weekly listing of case opportunities and notices of all VLJ-sponsored trainings and events. If you have ANY questions about our programs, please call us at (973) 645-1955.
Aiding Women, Children and Families
CHILDREN'S REPRESENTATION PROGRAM
The right to an education has been a core value of VLJ since our inception. In this program, volunteer attorneys represent children with disabilities who have been denied the special education services to which they are entitled and/or represent children who are victims of harassment/bullying in a school setting. Volunteers negotiate settlements and litigate matters so that children in need of assistance get the education they deserve. Find out more.
A sobering number of New Jersey residents represent themselves in divorce actions, as they are unable to afford an attorney. Divorce is particularly complex for lay people, and to improve the process for self-represented litigants, VLJ began a partnership with the Essex County Family Court in 2001. Now, VLJ coordinates 2 monthly limited-scope divorce clinics, with one focused on filing for divorce and the other addressing all issues post-filing. Prior family law experience not required. Find out more.
New Jersey Human TRAFFICKING VICTIMS LEGAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
Human trafficking involves luring individuals into sexual or labor exploitation through force, fraud or coercion. In 2013, The National Human Trafficking Hotline reported New Jersey’s call volume as the thirteenth highest of all states. Sex trafficking in particular exposes victims to arrest and conviction for prostitution and other related offenses. The resulting criminal records not only wrongly stigmatize survivors as criminals and serve as painful reminders of their experience, but also re-victimize them by preventing access to basic needs. In this program, volunteer attorneys, co-counseling with attorneys from VLJ, represent survivors of human trafficking seeking relief under New Jersey’s Human Trafficking Prevention, Protection and Treatment Act, which allows for, among other things, the vacatur and expungement of those criminal convictions. Find out more.
SOUTH WARD PROMISE NEIGHBORHOOD PROGRAM
The South Ward Promise Neighborhood program serves children and families in Newark’s South Ward by creating a continuum of solutions that will significantly improve the educational and developmental outcomes of children and youth in this neighborhood. VLJ’s role is to provide free legal services to South Ward families. Through coordination with SWPN, VLJ conducts legal screenings with potential clients to determine what, if any, legal needs are present and provide assistance accordingly, in the form of direct representation by VLJ staff, placement with a pro bono attorney, or limited-scope assistance so that the individual can better represent him/herself in the matter. VLJ also conducts regular seminars to reach South Ward families and ensure that the community members are well-informed on their legal rights and the services that are available to them. Find out more.
Every year, nearly 40,000 evictions are filed in Essex County. Most landlords are represented by attorneys while most tenants are pro se, contributing to an imbalance of power between landlords and tenants. The most common ground for eviction is nonpayment of rent, yet many tenants facing eviction struggle to assert their rights or contest improper fees from landlords. Through VLJs tenancy program, lawyers can help tenants fight against eviction by negotiating settlements or representing tenants at trial. Find out more.
Working through Financial Crisis
Co-sponsored by Merck & Co., Inc. and Prudential, this program offers low-income clients a new financial future after they have become overwhelmed by medical expenses, divorce, unemployment, credit cards and/or student loans. Volunteer lawyers are paired with clients who require assistance with Chapter 7 bankruptcies. Find out more.
CONSUMER LAW PROGRAM
As a response to the financial crisis of the past decade, VLJ began this program in 2010 to address the needs of low-income debtors being sued in the Special Civil Part in New Jersey. Now VLJ partners with Merck & Co., Inc. and the Essex County Court to sponsor this program in which volunteers provide advice and draft pleadings at a limited-scope legal clinic held at the courthouse. Find out more.
REENTRY LEGAL SERVICES (RELESE)
Created in partnership with then-Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s office, ReLeSe helps Essex County residents with criminal records address the civil legal barriers that serve as obstacles to their successful community reintegration. ReLeSe targets the areas of greatest need among the reentry population through the Criminal Record Expungement Clinic. Find out more.
Advocating for Veterans
Veterans Legal Program
After seeing the barriers faced by military personnel when they return to civilian life, VLJ began the Veterans Legal Program to address some of the legal hurdles they encounter in obtaining employment, housing and financial stability. This program includes two distinct programs, including the PSEG Veterans Legal Clinic and the Veterans Legal Wellness Clinic held at the VA Hospital. The PSEG Veterans Legal Clinic is open to lawyers from PSEG, Gibbons, PC and McCarter & English. The Veterans Legal Wellness Clinic is open to lawyers from BASF Corporation, Panasonic, Bressler Amery Ross, McGuire Woods LLP, and Nukk-Freeman & Cerra, PC. Find out more.
Responding to Disaster
DISASTER LEGAL RESPONSE PROGRAM
Following Superstorm Sandy, VLJ’s staff and volunteers mobilized quickly to coordinate legal assistance throughout the regions of the state most impacted by the storm. For years after the storm, civil legal issues still persisted for countless families and legal representation was often the key for a family to return home. VLJ coordinated walk-in legal clinics, organized informational seminars, and placed individual cases for full representation with pro bono attorneys, assisting over 1,500 families in the five years after Sandy. VLJ also established the Statewide Disaster Legal Team, which developed a comprehensive, statewide, disaster legal plan, to be used in the event of future disasters, and which meets annually to review the plan and ensure collaboration among legal services organizations, the private bar, state and local bar associations, and local law schools. VLJ staff remain involved in disaster legal issues by providing advice and guidance to areas that have been impacted by recent disasters. Please note that there are currently no volunteer opportunities through this program.
Direct Referral Program
A list of pro bono opportunities are available to VLJ’s panel of volunteer at all times. Opportunities range from limited-scope opportunities, to direct representation. Case types include bankruptcy, child support issues, consumer law issues, criminal record expungements, divorce, driver’s license issues, education cases, and estate issues. Volunteer attorneys review the pro bono opportunities list and volunteer for opportunities that fit their interests, experience levels, and schedules. Find out more.