Volunteer Lawyers for Justice
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Fall 2013 
Rutgers Law and Pro Bono:
The Scarlet Knights are Knights in Shining Armor for VLJ Clients

The demand placed on law students is high and their free time is limited.  Rutgers law students however clearly recognize that a well-rounded legal education extends far beyond the classroom.  As such, more students engage in a greater variety of pro bono work with VLJ than ever before.


Before even setting foot in a Torts or Contracts class, incoming 1Ls had the option during orientation to volunteer at a nonprofit. VLJ benefited from 4 such students who worked alongside staff attorneys. Then, in September, Cathy Keenan, VLJ's Director, introduced law students to the various legal clinics and pro bono opportunities available. This semester VLJ continues to host Rutgers law students interested in receiving pro bono credit or internship experience.


"Working at VLJ has provided me with experiences not normally available to law students," said Lisa Perri, a fall semester volunteer. "The staff listens and cares about what you want to get involved with and made a point to expose me to a variety of matters. As a 3L, under attorney supervision, I appeared in municipal court to advocate for clients resolving motor vehicle suspensions and in family court during default divorce proceedings." Upon graduation, Perri will join Morgan, Lewis & Bockius as an associate. "VLJ exposed me to different areas of law than what my practice will concentrate in," noted Perri, "and the skills I developed here will undoubtedly carry over and contribute meaningfully to my work at the firm."   


Lisa Perri, Rutgers Law 3L, during her volunteer hours at VLJ 


Rutgers Law Professor Taja-Nia Henderson actively incorporates skill-building components into her curriculum and offers students the ability to hone these skills by helping on a project in lieu of writing a final paper. Six students elected to spend 30 hours with VLJ's  program, ReLeSe, Newark Reentry Legal Services. Working in teams, the students represented 9 clients in overcoming driver's license suspensions stemming from outstanding municipal court matters, unsatisfied civil judgments, and surcharges owed to the Motor Vehicle Commission. On November 12th, 3L students appeared in Newark Municipal Court and successfully advocated on behalf of grateful clients. Abdullah Muhammad, represented by Nicole DeLaura, said he was elated by her assistance.  "With my lack of knowledge, insight and professionalism in submitting documents, it was so very, very important that I had her help. I was very touched and heartfelt that she put her best foot forward on my behalf."


Under the tutelage of Professor Jack Feinstein of the Urban Legal Clinic, students attend VLJ's monthly divorce and weekly consumer law clinics where they handle a number of responsibilities such as screening clients for program eligibility according to financial guidelines, observing attorney consultations, drafting pro se pleadings and reviewing supportive documents. "Students come to the clinics wanting to learn and they do a great job," notes Keenan. "Students frequently volunteer at a clinic multiple times per semester and help in any capacity where needed." 


Last year, Rutgers Newark began their Bankruptcy Pro Bono Project and VLJ referred 5 cases to the program.  This October, VLJ referred 15 clients to the project which pairs volunteer lawyers with law students to represent clients needing Chapter 7 bankruptcy assistance.  Approximately 40 students volunteered for this program and attended a full day bankruptcy training where the Honorable Morris Stern also spoke to them about the importance of pro bono legal assistance. Students work with a pro bono attorney and assist with client consultations, review client documents, prepare and file pleadings, attend trustee meetings, and ultimately obtain a discharge of the client's debt. The Bankruptcy Pro Bono Project fulfills a huge un-met legal need for low-income clients. Students in turn benefit from close interaction with a practicing attorney and the satisfaction of knowing that even early in their legal career, they have made an incredible difference in their clients' lives. 


VLJ thanks Rutgers law students and faculty for their wholehearted support of pro bono work and commitment to social justice and looks forward to our continued partnership.

Pro Bono Attorney Spotlight:

Eric Brophy, Esq.

Diegnan & Brophy


The first anniversary of Superstorm Sandy is an appropriate time to put our volunteer attorney spotlight on Eric Brophy.  Brophy was a first responder in the NJ legal community. Immediately after Sandy struck, Brophy, a partner in the Wall Township office of Diegnan & Brophy concentrating in business, condominium, criminal and municipal law, and part-time public defender in Belmar, worked with the mayor of Belmar to establish a legal clinic at town hall.  "That night I went to my office and sent e-mails to every lawyer I knew in Monmouth County and the Monmouth County Bar Association soliciting help at the clinic for the next day," Brophy recalls. "I received about 40 responses in the first two hours and on Friday morning 20 lawyers showed up ready to help."  Word of their presence went out and over the next four weeks lawyers were on site from 10 am to 4 pm.

Brophy then connected with Volunteer Laywers for
Justice, which was working on an effort to send pro bono lawyers out to FEMA's Disaster Recovery Centers in the most hard hit communities.  It became apparent immediately that Brophy's knowledge of the Monmouth and Ocean County communities would be vital in planning an effective long-term pro bono project to serve the victims of the storm.  At the same time, VLJ received additional funding to hire full-time legal staff to effectively operate a new Disaster Legal Response Project (DLRP).

The DLRP has grown from a hotline staffed by VLJ staff and volunteer law students to a full service pro bono project that has hosted free walk-in legal clinics in Hazlet, Brick, Moonachie, Hoboken, Jersey City and Atlantic City.  In the year since Sandy struck, the DLRP has operated a daily legal hotline, hosted 46 legal clinics staffed by 60 different volunteer attorneys, placed numerous direct referral cases for full representation and helped 482 families with their legal problems.  Brophy has been a vital member of the DLRP team.  "Eric has been integral to our work in Monmouth and Ocean Counties.  Not only has he volunteered at countless legal clinics, but he recruited attorney volunteers and has served as a mentor to clinic volunteers who may have less experience in disaster-related legal issues.  Eric is truly invested in his community and his pro bono leadership has been remarkable," noted Cathy Keenan, VLJ's Director.
  Eric Brophy advising Sandy victim at DLRP clinic in Brick.

Brophy learned right from the start that he would employ knowledge in a wide variety of practice areas, from administrative law to contract litigation. One of the first storm victims he assisted was a renter whose possessions had been unilaterally discarded by a landlord. A matter stirred up by a deadly hurricane had morphed into a classic landlord-tenant case.  "When I got involved with VLJ, I did not expect that the need for legal help would last more than a few months," said Brophy.  "I have been astounded that a year after the storm, victims continue to come to our clinics.  I am most amazed at the fortitude of the Sandy victims who continue to fight to get back to normalcy every day.  Meeting and getting to know these people has been the most rewarding part of my experience with the Disaster Legal Response Program."

Like many volunteers in the stricken areas, Brophy was a Sandy victim. His home in Wall Township was spared, but a condo he owns in Sea Bright was flooded.  In addition to his work with VLJ, Brophy has assisted numerous Sandy survivors through his private practice and he serves as a mediator under NJ's Sandy insurance mediation program.

What compels the Brophys of the world to volunteer before they are even asked? His answer is simple, "When we become lawyers we take on the responsibility of doing good and doing the right thing."  
In This Issue
Partnership with Rutgers Law
Pro Bono Attorney Spotlight
VLJ Gala: Tickets and Online Auction
Stand Down Event for Homeless Vets
New Faces at VLJ
Generation Now
Last Chance!
Dec. 3, 2013:
Honoring the H
eroes of Sandy


Be sure not to miss the end-of-the-year gala, the annual Arts & Eats festival that celebrates the good work of the VLJ community.   



 Limited space still available!    


Click here to attend and join us in Honoring the Heroes of Sandy: 

Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP

Duane Morris LLP

Gibbons P.C.

Giordano, Halleran & Ciesla, PC

Hewlett-Packard Company

Jackson Lewis LLP

McCarter & English, LLP

Patton Boggs LLP

Riker, Danzig, Scherer, Hyland & Perretti LLP

UBS Financial Services, Inc.   

This will be the first VLJ gala at the Newark Museum and
first year the silent auction is available online so start your bidding now. Sports events and memorabilia, adventure experiences, entertainment and spa packages, and much much more!

Bid early, bid often, and good luck!

Stand Down for Homeless Veterans:

Legal services for those who served


On October 12, 2013, the John F. Kennedy Recreation Center in Newark transformed into a one stop resource shop during the annual Stand Down for Homeless Veterans.


Nearly 300 veterans accessed a plethora of social and community services including transitional housing, health care benefits, VA benefits, medical screenings, counseling and supportive services for families. Veterans received donated clothing and sleeping bags to brace for the cold winter months and ended their visit with a hot meal.  VLJ was on hand to provide much-needed free legal services.  


VLJ staff attorney, Karen Robinson, said veterans' legal issues consisted primarily of municipal court matters, family and divorce, bankruptcy and consumer law matters, and expungement of criminal records. Counselors and case workers had as many questions for VLJ as the veterans, with many counselors lamenting there is nowhere to refer clients with legal issues.  


One Vets Center counselor sought legal assistance for a veteran suffering from a traumatic brain injury that causes him to lose his train of thought mid-sentence.  This veteran is navigating his family law matter pro se to no avail given the nature of his combat zone injury.  


Robinson also noted that some veterans did not realize their issues were legal in nature, like a suspended driver's license due to municipal violations, until speaking with her.


"Our military veterans face all kinds of legal difficulties," said James Fanous, who leads the Veterans Justice Initiative for the GI Go Fund. "Our organization deals with veterans with legal issues ranging anywhere from child custody disputes and foreclosure matters to employment discrimination. And when they approach us, they often have been dealing with the matter themselves, feeling like an attorney was unattainable for them. It is events like our Stand Down that have made such a tremendous difference in changing this perception, and we are so proud to have members of the legal community like Volunteer Lawyers for Justice come here and reach out to offer the legal support that these men and women need and deserve."


 Karen Robinson, VLJ staff attorney, speaking with veteran.


The outpouring of gratitude was unexpected for Robinson. "Veterans graciously thanked me for the legal advice, and I in turn thanked them for their military service," reflected Robinson. "Providing free legal counsel was the least I could do for those who gave so much."


In response to the demand for legal services, VLJ is  developing a veterans legal program. To volunteer with VLJ and learn about future opportunities with veterans, please sign up here.
Welcome Aboard!
VLJ welcomes three new
support staff to our team

From left to right: Michelle Smith (Bryn Mawr College, 2012), Yda Zamora (Binghamton University, 2013), and Diana Onuschak (Rutgers University, 2012).

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Generation Now: 
Young Lawyers, Pro Bono, Food and Fun!  

VLJ's Generation Now  committee gathers during kickoff event at
nico's Kitchen + Bar on November 20th

All lawyers who are 40 or younger OR who have practiced law for 10 years or less, are invited to join VLJ's new committee, Generation Now. For more information about this committee and future events, please visit our website.