Brooklyn VLP: Volunteer Spotlight

  1. VLP Volunteer Featured on ProBonoNet

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    Justine Rousseau headshotProBonoNet highlighted VLP Family Law Volunteer Justine Rousseau as this month’s Volunteer Spotlight. Read as she shares her insights about volunteering with Brooklyn Volunteer Lawyers Project. In addition to some great advice for law students & recent graduates, and the “great power” and “great responsibility” of pro bono work, we encourage you to check it out if you are interested in gaining courtroom experience in family law, but are not quite sure whether you have the “right” expertise. Thank you to our friends at Pro Bono Net for the feature, and thank you Justine, for your dedicated commitment to assisting those in need!

  2. Jim Slattery: A Lawyer Who Leads by Example

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    October 25-30th marked National Pro Bono Week. We at the VLP thank all our wonderful, dedicated volunteer attorneys, law graduates and law students who provide critical legal services to our clients.

    The New York Law Journal recently honored our Board Chair, Jim Slattery as a Lawyer Who Leads by Example. Jim shares with us why he volunteers for the VLP:
    Slattery

    While I was in private practice for over 46 years, I can truly say that my eyes to the real meaning of being an attorney opened when I connected with the Brooklyn VLP 25 years ago when I was shown the vast number of people in Brooklyn, some 600,000, who could not afford counsel when they needed it and therefore were denied the justice they deserved. The real joy in my connection with VLP rests in becoming a volunteer and helping those less fortunate achieve the goal of steering through the many obstacles of our legal system and making it work for them. Please don’t misunderstand, the prestige and monetary rewards of partnership and private practice were wonderful…but nothing, no nothing, compares to look of gratitude in the eyes of a VLP client successfully served when they realize what VLP has done for them. If you’ve never had the experience, you don’t know what it truly means to be a lawyer. Organizations like VLP provide legal services to those who otherwise would be denied justice. Once that sinks in and you realize that you can make a difference, it doesn’t get any better than that.

    Jim Slattery
    Board Chair, Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project

  3. VLP Consumer Debt Volunteers Honored for Outstanding Pro Bono Service

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    VLP consumer debt volunteer attorneys Israel Appel and Thomas Mennecke were honored at the annual Pro Bono Awards ceremony for outstanding service in the NYS Courts Access to Justice Program’s Consumer Volunteer Lawyer for the Day Program. The event took place in celebration of National Pro Bono week on Thursday, October 29th at the New York County Lawyers’ Association, 14 Vesey Street in Manhattan.  Program presenters included the Honorable Fern Fisher, and the Presidents of the New York County Lawyers’ Association and New York State Bar Association.

    VLFD Award 10.29.15 2

    Left to right: VLP Volunteer Thomas Mennecke; VLP Director of Legal Services Sidney Cherubin; VLP Volunteer Israel Appel

    VLFD Award 10.29.15

    Israel Appel; Hon. Fern Fisher; Sidney Cherubin; Thomas Mennecke

    F.Fisher I.Appel VLFD award 10.29.15

    Hon. Fern Fisher and Israel Appel

    Cherubin Appel VLFD award 10.29.15

    Sidney Cherubin and Israel Appel

     

  4. Celebrating 25 Years

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    In honor of this special anniversary, the Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project (“VLP”) highlights some of the remarkable volunteer attorneys whose pro bono work can be seen in the strength of the VLP today. The VLP model harnesses the talent of local professionals to make access to justice a reality for our clients. We could simply not do this without volunteers like those featured below. Celebrate your contribution to the VLP’s 25 years–read the inspiring stories of highlighted volunteers at different points in the VLP’s 25-year history and commit to 25 dollars a month in their honor.

    Charles Coleman, Esq.
    Fern Finkel, Esq.
    Daniel Gershburg, Esq.
    Nazar Khan, Esq.
    Anna Yasova, Esq.

    Coleman photo

    Charles Coleman, Esq.

    “Although it is sometimes heartbreaking to hear some of our clients’ stories, it is exhilarating to the nth degree to welcome the thanks from those whom we help and see them begin to get on with their lives.”

    Charles E. Coleman, Esq. is a Professor Emeritus, who continues as an adjunct teaching at New York City College of Technology, CUNY. Charles has been doing volunteer work since the mid-1980s, first with the New York County Lawyers Association, assisting AIDS patients with credit and estate matters. He helped to organize a legal clinic, staffed by an all-attorney faculty and students, for indigent senior citizens in his college’s Department of Law and Paralegal Studies in 1990. Charles has been volunteering weekly at the VLP offices since the spring of 2006, representing and assisting pro se clients with uncontested divorces. Charles has also participated in the VLP’s National Grid Senior Legal Education and Assistance Program (“Senior LEAP) and the Civil Legal Advice and Resource Office (“CLARO”) clinic for pro se debtor litigants. He received his BS degree in Criminal Justice from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, his MS degree in Urban Affairs from Hunter College and his JD degree from St. John’s University in 1986.

    VLP: Please give a brief description of your work prior to your time at the VLP.

    CC: Since 1988, I was the second of two founding faculty and have been teaching in the Law and Paralegal Studies Department of one of CUNY’s senior colleges – NYC College of Technology.  During part of my 18 years there, I served as chair of that department. Prior to teaching I began volunteering during the height of the AIDS crisis by doing estate planning and dealing with debt collectors for clients of the New York County Lawyers Association/Gay Men’s Health Crisis.  Shortly after joining the college faculty, we began giving open forum lectures for the public in various areas of law, utilizing skilled volunteer practitioners in those areas.  Mainly we did wills, powers of attorney, health care proxies and uncontested divorces. 

    VLP: How did you get involved with the VLP?

    CC: As a member of the Brooklyn Bar Association in the early 90’s I heard about the Volunteer Lawyers Project and approached them seeking to collaborate in the areas we undertook.  We began accepting referrals from the VLP which vetted the clients so we could be sure we were only accepting those who really needed our help. When I resigned from the college, I decided to continue to teach on a part time basis and to expand my personal association with the VLP.  This was only natural since I enjoyed doing both.  I approached the VLP and, thus, occupy their offices one day each week.

    VLP: Why do you do pro bono work?

    CC: There are so many people who need legal help.  There are not enough helpers.  Those who provide that help are not taking clients from anyone.  Those helped simply would do without and continue to be taken advantage of or not be able to prepare for their own and their families’ futures because of their circumstances. Although it is sometimes heartbreaking to hear some of our clients’ stories, it is exhilarating to the nth degree to welcome the thanks from those whom we help and see them begin to get on with their lives.

    VLP: What do you gain as a volunteer for the VLP?

    CC: For those just entering the practice of law and for those established or retiring, the satisfaction of really doing something to improve people’s lives might be enough.  As a more practical matter in terms of making a living, the skills learned in practicing law and dealing with real clients is invaluable.  In addition, meeting with other attorneys and interacting with others involved in the court system and the delivery of justice is something that would come a lot slower otherwise.  The pro bono clients may also remember how you helped them and come as a paying client in the future and will certainly recommend you to others.

     

    Fern Finkel

    Fern J. Finkel, Esq.

    “If not for the VLP, I would not have had the exposure to elder law, the mentoring, to enable me to shift fields and reinvent my professional career.”

    Fern J. Finkel is an elder law attorney at the firm Finkel and Fernandez in downtown Brooklyn. She has specialized in elder law and guardianship since 1998 and been in private practice since 1990. Prior to establishing her private practice, Fern was a litigator specializing in medical malpractice and personal injury at the law firm of Damashek, Godosky and Gentile.

    Fern graduated with honors from New York University College of Business and Public Administration in 1981. She received her Juris Doctor Degree from Boston University School of Law in 1984.

    As part of her private practice, Fern spends a significant amount of time working pro bono on behalf of the indigent elderly of Brooklyn. She has spearheaded the VLP’s National Grid Foundation Senior Legal Education and Assistance Project (“Senior LEAP”) at the Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project, of which she is a Board Member. Senior LEAP is dedicated to training attorneys to perform outreach at community and senior centers throughout Brooklyn, with a focus on assisting seniors to have their health care proxies and advance directives in place, avoiding the painful process of guardianship which might otherwise result. 

    Fern is the Chair of the Foundation Law Committee of the Brooklyn Bar Association, the Vice Chair of the Elder Law Committee of the Brooklyn Bar Association, a delegate to the New York State Bar Association Elder Law Section where she serves as Vice Chair of the Guardianship Committee, and a board member of Legal Services New York City where she also serves on the executive board.  Fern served for years as a volunteer certified mediator with Safe Horizons for community disputes, PINS cases and custody matters, as well as with the United States District Court, Eastern District. Fern lectures for various bar associations on topics including the Role of the Guardian, Role of the Court Evaluator, Role of the Attorney for the Alleged Incapacitated Person, Advance Directives and Guardianship. Since 2004 she has served as a mentor attorney at the Elder Law Clinic at New York Law School. She is a co-facilitator of the Working Model of Guardianship- WINGS [Working Interdisciplinary Network of Guardianship Stakeholders] and serves on the Committees on Character and Fitness for the Second Judicial Department. She was listed as a New York Super Lawyer in the field of elder law in 2014 and 2015.

    Fern has won numerous awards for her pro bono service, including the Brooklyn Bar Association Frieda S. Nisnewitz Award for Pro Bono Service (1996), an Award of Merit from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (1997), the New York State Bar Association Pro Bono Award for the Second Judicial District (2003), the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York Hanna S. Cohn Pro Bono Award (2004), the Brooklyn Bar Association Distinguished Service Award (2009) and (2013) and the VLP’s Building Bridges Leadership Award (2013).   

    VLP: Tell us about yourself. What is the nature of your practice?

    FF: I am an elder law and special needs attorney.  I graduated from Boston University School of Law in 1984.  My first career, as a medical malpractice attorney, was richly rewarding, and taught me how to think on my feet and try a case. This has been invaluable as part of my practice is contested guardianships.

    VLP: How did you first get involved with the Brooklyn VLP?

    FF: I had three babies in a row, and didn’t want to return to trying cases full time at that time. So I decided to open a home office and do per diem work.  I learned about a pro bono opportunity to shadow an elder law attorney at a senior center, where I met the incomparable Geraldine Kennedy from Brooklyn Legal Services. She took me under her wing and taught me an entire new field of law.   

    VLP: Has your work at the VLP assisted you professionally?

    FF: If not for the VLP, I would not have had the exposure to elder law, the mentoring, to enable me to shift fields and reinvent my professional career. The VLP helped me grow into the elder law attorney I am today.

    VLP: Why do you continue to do pro bono at the Brooklyn VLP?

    FF: Little to me is more rewarding than making a difference to those that need it.  

    VLP: What advice would you give to law students or recent law graduates?

    FF: Find what you love and follow your passion.  You may not get your dream job; it’s a hard market today and what we envision doing upon graduation may not happen.  Supplement your experience with pro bono service.  The need is great, and the benefits are plentiful.  You will meet like-minded people, learn from those that will mentor you, branch out professionally, and expand your knowledge. 

    VLP: Why is it important to do pro bono work? 

    FF: There is a world of hurt and injustice. Access to legal services is simply not sufficient; attorneys charge heavily, and the free public programs often have long wait lists and criteria for getting assistance many cannot meet. Pro bono helps fill that gap. On a personal and professional level, I believe my pro bono service helped make me the attorney I am today. It sounds like a cliche, but I live by the words: “the more you give, the more you get back.” This holds true not on a day to day basis, but over the course of a lifetime, and over the span of the years in private practice. I speak with colleagues who ask me how to go about growing their practice, and I always tell them to volunteer. Some tell me they can’t afford to; I often tell them they can’t afford not to

    VLP: Can you share any VLP success stories? 

    FF: How much time do you have?  From getting a three year old kidnapped child back to her impoverished mother in Poland by bringing a Hague petition, to soothing an octogenarian’s heart by having her only child’s gravestone engraving raised to the top of the stone so she could see the words “beloved daughter” when she visited without the grass covering the letters, to getting benefits for my clients who otherwise had to choose between medication and food, to getting safe discharge plans in place so my seniors could go home and not spend their lives in nursing homes…it goes on and on and on….

    VLP: What can you take from earlier experiences at the VLP and what has meant the most to you? 

    FF: I believe I am an elder law attorney because of my experience at the VLP.   Elder Law wasn’t even a course offered in law school; it wasn’t a field of practice one specialized in. As it emerged from strictly conservatorship to Article 81 guardianship and grew as an area of practice, I learned and grew by having the mentorship and opportunities provided by the VLP. I owe much of the success of my practice to the VLP, to Brooklyn Legal Services and Geraldine Kennedy.

     

    Daniel Gershburg

    Daniel Gershburg, Esq.

    “Many times we forget the power we have as attorneys to literally transform lives.  Pro bono helps one remember that.”

    Born and raised in Brooklyn, Daniel Gershburg always had an entrepreneurial spirit. After graduating New York Law School, Daniel immediately opened the doors to his own law office, hoping to change the way solo attorneys are perceived. Since 2007, Daniel has helped sixty VLP bankruptcy clients get back on their feet. Below, he tells us about his entwined journey of starting his own practice and doing pro bono work. 

    VLP: Tell us about yourself. What is the nature of your practice?

    DG: I started my practice at the age of 24 in a tiny office in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.  I took every case that came in until I honed my skills in Bankruptcy.  An instructional video (yes, video) of Greg Messer and David Doyaga (whom I refer to as the Doc Holiday and Wyatt Earp of Bankruptcy) led me on my way. We are now based in New York City and focus on consumer bankruptcy and residential real estate transactions.

    VLP: How did you first get involved with the Brooklyn VLP?

    DG: I wanted to learn Bankruptcy by doing pro bono work.  I found the VLP online and the rest was history.

    VLP: Has your work at the VLP assisted you professionally?

    DG: It allowed me to learn the law and, just as importantly, the procedure surrounding bankruptcy without constantly worrying about a malpractice suit.  More importantly, I’ve actually seen the relief on the faces of my pro bono clients when their case is discharged.  You cannot put a price on that.

    VLP: Why do you continue to do pro bono at the Brooklyn VLP?

    DG: Because I believe we have an obligation to help.  Many times we forget the power we have as attorneys to literally transform lives.  Pro bono helps one remember that.

    VLP: What advice would you give to law students or recent law graduates?

    Get a refund.  Totally kidding (maybe).  You need to hustle.  You need to go out and meet everyone you possibly can and take any job you can in this market.  Get experience.  Find out what you don’t want to do.  Then try something else and find out what you do want to do.  Then spend every single moment learning and writing down mistakes.  Improve every day.  It’s called the “practice” of law for a reason.

    VLP: Why is it important to do pro bono work?

    DG: As I mentioned before, it’s an obligation.  People depend on our help.  

    VLP: Can you share any VLP success stories?

    DG: No specific one comes to mind.  I can tell you that when people walk out of a meeting of the creditors, this calmness washes over them.  I’d take that feeling over a huge client any day.

    VLP: What can you take from earlier experiences at the VLP and what has meant the most to you?

    DG: The dedication of the people who work for VLP.  Sidney specifically.  They’re doing God’s work.  Would love to see more like them in our profession.

     

    Nazar Khan1

    Nazar Khan, Esq.

    “My VLP volunteer work was so gratifying that I decided to serve the low-income community in my own practice.”

    Nazar Khan is a solo practitioner who came to the VLP in 2005 to volunteer his family law services. Since then, he has won several awards from the VLP and other organizations in recognition of his incredible pro bono work. When Mr. Khan first volunteered with the VLP, the VLP promptly started referring Family Court cases to him.  He almost never said “no.”  In his first eight months of volunteering, he took an astounding fifty-three cases for the VLP and contributed hundreds of hours of pro bono service. He has also served as a mentor for new volunteer attorneys in family law. Below, he answers a few questions about his involvement with the VLP.

    VLP: Tell us about yourself. How did you first get involved with the Brooklyn VLP?

    NK: I graduated from Washburn University School of Law in 2004 and became a member of the New York Bar the next year. Throughout my last year of law school, my mind was preoccupied with ideas of how to contribute and give back to my community that gave me the opportunity to fulfill my dream of becoming an attorney. I grew up in Flushing, Queens and went to Queens College in Flushing, but went to law school in Kansas! So naturally, when I graduated from law school, I rushed back home and searched for organizations that served the underprivileged in the community. Initially I did some work with Mark Weliky of the Queens Bar Association VLP but then reached out to Jeannie Costello of the Brooklyn VLP.

    VLP:     What types of matters have you handled at the VLP?

    NK: I started doing pro bono cases for the VLP in 2005. By the end of 2007, I had done well over 50 cases and donated more than 1,000 hours. The cases involved child support, custody/visitation, guardianships, orders of protection, and matrimonial cases.

    VLP:      Has your work at the VLP assisted you professionally?

    NK: Back in the day, the VLP had a policy not to get involved with contested matrimonial cases. But when I started doing matrimonial cases, some clients left such a great impression on me that I made an exception to the rule. I did several contested cases on a pro bono basis. My VLP volunteer work was so gratifying that I decided to serve the low-income community in my own practice. I applied to the assigned counsel 18b panel and am still working and serving indigent litigants of Brooklyn.

     

    Anna Yasova

    Anna Yasova, Esq.

    “Without dedicated volunteers many of those most in need of assistance will find themselves taken advantage of or trapped in undesirable situations.”

    Anna Yasova graduated in 2014 from New York Law School, and initially came to the VLP to complete the required 50 hours of pro bono for admission to the New York Bar. Because of her prior background in uncontested divorce and consumer law, we felt comfortable assigning her clients in these areas. She efficiently began resolving both matrimonial and consumer debt matters with ease and patience. Anna soon took on several clients at a time, far exceeding her required hours. We are thrilled she found the VLP as she has become a regular presence at the VLP office. She is fluent in Russian and has donated her time translating for VLP cases and assisted Russian-speaking clients on a pro bono basis. Below, she discusses the learning process after obtaining her JD, the importance of passion in any field, and the humility pro bono work brings.

    VLP: Tell us about yourself. What is the nature of your practice?

    AY: I am a recently admitted attorney beginning my practice in family, immigration, and business law.

    VLP: How did you first get involved with the Brooklyn VLP?

    AY: I first learned about the VLP through the NYLS Office of Career Planning while looking for an organization through which I could complete my pro bono requirement.

    VLP: Has your work at the VLP assisted you professionally?

    AY: Volunteering with the VLP taught me to manage my own caseload and has given me a wonderful group of attorneys I can turn to when I need assistance. It also has given me opportunities to obtain additional professional training from area experts.

    VLP: Why do you continue to do pro bono at the Brooklyn VLP?

    AY: After a short time with the VLP I came to truly appreciate pro bono service and the people I volunteer alongside. The people we assist cannot afford to pay an attorney and rely on us to help them navigate difficult situations. I have seen the consequences of a client’s attempt to resolve legal issues by relying on advice from friends or associates not involved in legal practice and want to help keep other people from those same pitfalls. I enjoy putting my legal and language skills at the disposal of those who need it.

    VLP: What advice would you give to law students or recent law graduates?

    AY: The best advice I can offer law students and recent graduates is to find an area of law that really inspires them when choosing specialty. The most important steps we can take in the early stages of our careers are to lay a solid foundation for a practice that will keep us interested and engaged and to develop a support network we can rely on for guidance.

    VLP: Why is it important to do pro bono work?

    AY: As a law student or lawyer it’s easy to take our knowledge for granted, assuming that if something seems straightforward to us, it will appear that way to everyone. In truth it is our training and experience that allow us to navigate through an often intricate legal process.  Without dedicated volunteers many of those most in need of assistance can be taken advantage of or find themselves trapped in situations they can’t resolve on their own. 

    VLP: Can you share any VLP success stories?

    AY: A number of my cases involved divorces where the marriages had broken down years ago. A surprising number of these cases involved parties that had separated over a decade ago, but were unable to move on with their lives and relationships because they weren’t able to afford an attorney.  Helping clients move on is also a large part of volunteering with CLARO, where I was able to help a number of older client’s stop collections activity against them so they could have peace of mind and a clear conscience for their retirement.

    VLP: What can you take from earlier experiences at the VLP and what has meant the most to you?

    AY: My experience at the VLP has taught me the importance of looking beyond the legal issue to the person its affecting. Knowing that clients have confidence in my skills and value my advice enough to contact me for help with other issues has truly meant the most to me.

     

  5. Luis Rodriguez

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    VLP Volunteer Attorney Luis Rodriguez

    VLP Volunteer Attorney Luis Rodriguez

    Luis Rodriguez approached the Volunteer Lawyers Project last year in hopes of putting his legal and financial skills to work helping low-income Brooklyn residents. Since then he has been an active VLP volunteer, providing pro bono assistance to clients through the VLP’s Chapter 7 Bankruptcy project.

    Below, Luis answers a few questions about his involvement in the VLP.

    The VLP: Tell us a bit about your background.

    LR: I have a BS and MBA in Finance, JD, and am currently pursuing an LLM in Taxation from New York Law School. I am admitted to practice in New York, and in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York. For the last ten years I have been a corporate finance attorney documenting various types of derivative transactions for sell-side banking and brokerage firms, and last year I volunteered for the VLP’s Bankruptcy project where the highlight and challenge has been representing clients in their Chapter 7 bankruptcy matters.

    While not assisting VLP clients, I also serve as an active board member, and former Treasurer, of Manhattan Community Board Five in Midtown (www.cb5.org), in addition to serving as the Treasurer and board member of En Foco, Inc. (www.enfoco.org), a photographic arts nonprofit.

    The VLP: How did you become involved with the Volunteer Lawyers Project and what types of pro bono cases have you handled though the VLP?

    LR: I was looking to volunteer for pro bono services where I could lever my financial experience and passion for personal service, and as a Brooklyn native, the VLP’s Bankruptcy Project was a great fit. I worked on the Chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions of two clients that spoke and read only Spanish.

    Like most clients in their circumstances they were embarrassed and fraught with anxiety. After counseling them about the bankruptcy process and walking them through the credit counseling course they walked away more confident that they could begin their financial life anew.

    The VLP: Why do you do pro bono work?

    LR: It’s one of my core beliefs that attorneys have an ethical obligation to provide pro bono services – it’s not only a good thing to do, it’s the right thing to do as a citizen.

    The VLP: How do you balance your private practice with your pro bono work?

    LR: It begins with enjoying what I do for a living, then finding pro bono work that I am just as passionate about; however, having someone special in your life that is understanding and supportive certainly is a great advantage.

    The VLP: What would you tell other attorneys who are thinking about volunteering with the VLP?

    LR: My experience at VLP has been very positive. The VLP staff are friendly, knowledgeable and supportive – a pleasure to work with. VLP’s offices are conveniently near the Bankruptcy court and transportation hubs.

  6. Sadia Graham

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    Sadia Graham

    Sadia Graham

    Family Law Volunteer Sadia Graham answers a few questions about her work with the Volunteer Lawyers Project.

     

    SG: I graduated from Fordham University School of Law and am a proud product of the NYC public school system.  Upon graduating from Fordham I was in-house counsel in a corporate setting doing copyright licensing and trademark work; after a number of years I set off on my own and became a sole practitioner. I have been volunteering with the VLP for one year.

     

     How did you become involved with the Volunteer Lawyers Project and what types of pro bono cases have you handled though the VLP?

     

    SG: I originally sought out the VLP because I was interested in domestic violence issues. Since become a volunteer done support, visitation and custody cases in Kings County Family Court.

     

    Why do you do pro bono work?

     

    SG: Family court is very different from the legal work I have done in the past and I welcome the change.  Although the clients can be challenging I enjoy assisting them, and I have broadened my skill set and made new friends in the process.  I believe you are blessed so that you can be a blessing to others and the VLP is a great way for me to share my knowledge and time. 

     

    How do you balance your private practice with your pro bono work?

     

    SG: I prioritize according to the importance and imminence of a project and I live by my lists.

     

    What would you tell other attorneys who are thinking about volunteering with the VLP?

     

    SG: Just do it.

  7. Nicholas Chandler

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    VLP Volunteer Nicholas Chandler

    As a brand-new attorney recently out of law school, Nicholas Chandler approached the Volunteer Lawyers Project about pro bono opportunities in February, 2008.  In the midst of a job search, he was looking for a way to gain real-world legal experience and get more involved in his community.  Since then he has been a weekly fixture at CLARO, the Civil Legal Advice and Resource Office, where volunteer attorneys and Brooklyn Law School students provide advice to self-represented litigants being sued by creditors.

     

    Nicholas graduated from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts in 2004 with concentrations in contemporary history and German.  The following fall he started at Tulane Law School in New Orleans, Louisiana and spent his first two semesters there.  Barely into the first week of his second year at Tulane, Hurricane Katrina hit and forced the school to close.  After escaping to Houston, Nicholas was quickly admitted as a visiting student at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.  At the end of that semester he transferred to American University’s Washington College of Law (“WCL”) where he graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2007. 

     

    Nicholas’ varied experiences during law school included work in the enforcement division at the United States Environmental Protection Agency, where he worked on drafting comprehensive settlement plans with industry groups responsible for oil spills and other large-scale water contaminations.  In 2006, he co-founded WCL’s Poverty Law Society with the goal of bringing renewed focus to the growing inequality gap between the rich and the poor and addressing the decline of poverty law services in the D.C. area since the 1960s.

     

    Below, Nicholas answers a few questions about his involvement with the VLP.

     

    (Note: The following interview appeared in the May, 2008 issue of the Brooklyn Barrister.  Nicholas has since become even more deeply involved with the VLP and has assisted literally hundreds of VLP clients.  He was the 2008 recipient of the VLP’s Christopher Slattery Young Professional Award.)

     

    VLP: How did you become involved with the Volunteer Lawyers Project and what types of pro bono cases have you handled though the VLP?

     

    Nicholas Chandler:  At my swearing in ceremony I received a pamphlet about the VLP and e-mailed Jessica Spiegel, the Pro Bono Coordinator, a few days later. I had been waiting for a great opportunity to break into everyday practice in New York since all of my prior experience happened elsewhere in the country. I started out as a “shadow” at CLARO, sitting alongside VLP Supervising Attorney Sidney Cherubin or one of the experienced volunteers, observing as they counseled the litigants.  I’m now at the point where I feel confident meeting with litigants on my own and giving advice without first consulting Sidney.  I’ve also begun to explore other pro bono opportunities at the VLP – I just completed my first uncontested divorce and am currently representing a VLP client in her spousal support proceeding.

     

    VLP:  As a new attorney, what motivated you to do pro bono work?

     

    NC:  I was eager for an opportunity to begin working as an actual attorney in the New York system. I got lucky and after showing up for CLARO a few times I was invited to take on a greater role as a volunteer attorney. I want to understand all the basics of filing and appearing in court as well as New York State civil procedure. As for the pro bono aspect, at the VLP I’m training to do the work that I actually want to do, so the fact that I do it for free doesn’t really make a difference to me.  The people I’m assisting can’t afford to pay the rates of attorneys in this city, so who is going to assist them if someone doesn’t volunteer?  Most of all, the work is its own reward. I see the difference between being an advocate whose pay is contingent upon his successful performance and being one whose performance is motivated by a desire to help people.

     

    VLP:  With all your other obligations, how do you make time for pro bono work?

     

    NC:  My only hours right now come as a substitute teacher at Brooklyn Charter schools, and work like that always ends by 4 PM. So I always have time to make it to CLARO. And I think it’s worth taking the occasional day off to work as a volunteer. In terms of the help that I can offer to people and the experience that the work provides me with, the VLP is a great opportunity to learn and do at the same time.

     

    VLP:  What would you tell other attorneys who are thinking about volunteering with the VLP?

     

    NC:  As far as I can tell since I started at CLARO, the new volunteers always seem to enjoy being there. I plan on doing it for as long as they let me; every week I learn something new and I’d like to think that every week I do at least one good deed. It’s a low-pressure atmosphere where we can dress down and talk casually but still do critical legal work for people who need help. Also, CLARO conveniently ends before “Lost” comes on so you have plenty of time to get home on the subway, assuming you don’t go out for drinks afterwards with the rest of the volunteers.

  8. Patrick Garcia

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    VLP Mentor Patrick Garcia

    As any attorney who has volunteered for the Volunteer Lawyers Project will attest, the guidance of a knowledgeable and generous mentor is the key to a good outcome for the client and a positive experience for the attorney.  Traditionally, family law cases are especially hard to place; new attorneys feel unequipped for the challenge and more experienced attorneys who are not in the field may be uncomfortable with the possibility of the emotional demands of long term representation.

    Fortunately, Patrick R. Garcia has been filling the essential role of mentor for the VLP and its family law volunteers for close to five years with consummate skill and grace, along with taking on a significant number of pro bono cases himself.

    Please tell us a bit about your background.

    My undergraduate and graduate education is in speech and drama. I wanted to be a theatrical director. I went to law school after arriving in New York and graduated in 1982. In 1985, I opened up an office in Brooklyn and became a member of the 2nd Dept. Assigned Counsel and Law Guardian panels in Kings Family Court. In 1992, I went to work as a Support Magistrate and left that job in 2004, re-opened an office and re-joined the Assigned Counsel and Law Guardian Panels. I began volunteering with the VLP in 2004 primarily as a way to use my 12.5 years of experience doing child support cases and to re-enter practice.

    How did you become involved with the Volunteer Lawyers Project and what types of pro bono cases have you handled though the VLP?

    At some point I approached the VLP about doing a CLE course on child support litigation and enlisted two of my former colleagues for a panel. In conjunction with the CLE course, I am willing to mentor any person who takes a pro bono case and wants to discuss the case.

    Tell us about your role as a mentor to other VLP volunteer attorneys.

    My goal as a mentor is to help attorneys who want to learn support, learn the area well and provide quality representation.

    When I receive a call from an attorney seeking advice, I like to meet with them, discuss the fact pattern and the probable steps (within the context of a pro bono case) that are typically performed.

    How do you balance your private practice with your pro bono work?

    I tend to treat the pro bono case as any other case and the pro bono client as any other client.

    What would you tell other attorneys who are thinking about volunteering with the VLP?

    The legal system cannot function without attorneys who do “good” for its own sake. I also think being identified as a member of the VLP garners respect from the bench and enhances your credibility as an attorney.

  9. Patricia Carrington

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    VLP Volunteer Patricia Carrington

    VLP Volunteer Patricia Carrington

    Patricia Carrington has been a volunteer attorney for the Volunteer Lawyers Project (“VLP”) since 2004. During that time, she has skillfully represented numerous VLP clients. In her most recent family law case, Patricia represented a 61-year-old man who had a child support order of $500 a month for one child entered against him in 2005. Subsequent to that order he suffered a stroke and was not able to return to work. His only income was about $700 a month from Social Security for his disability. Patricia was able to successfully modify the 2005 support order and adjust his arrears. Afterwards Patricia learned that the client was struggling under the weight of significant debt – and volunteered to take on his bankruptcy pro bono, as well.

    After graduating from Brooklyn Law School in 2003, Patricia first worked at a personal injury firm, then gained the bulk of her experience when she moved over to a general practice on Staten Island. This past summer she decided to start a solo practice. She handles estate planning and bankruptcy, and is beginning to immerse herself in family law. Here she answers a few questions about her experience with the VLP.

    How did you become involved with the VLP and what types of pro bono cases have you handled though the VLP?

    A colleague introduced me to the VLP. Since then I have handled bankruptcies, child support and custody cases for the VLP.

    Why do you do pro bono work?

    For two reasons. First because I like being able to help people. My VLP clients often express feelings of hopelessness at our first meetings. It’s nice to know that my work can turn things around for them. Oh, and the CLE credit is nice too.

    How do you balance your private practice with your pro bono work?

    Since my practice is fairly new I don’t have that many clients, but I like to keep busy so whenever I’m not overwhelmed I pick up a VLP client. Having a full schedule keeps me focused and helps me to stay on top of case rotation and calendar organization.

    What would you tell other attorneys who are thinking about volunteering with the VLP?

    Call 718-624-3894….Hurry Up!