Lisa Perri, law student, Rutgers School of Law-Newark
Volunteer Lawyers for Justice
P.O. Box 32040
Newark, NJ 07102
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Release Date: Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Media Contact: Christine Ziomek (201) 796-7788
Newark-Based Partnership Brings Broad Community Benefits
NEWARK, N.J., Feb. 25, 2014 – Rutgers School of Law-Newark students are getting a first-hand introduction to legal work as a result of the school’s partnership with its Newark neighbor Volunteer Lawyers for Justice (VLJ). Through VLJ’s range of programming, law students like Lisa Perri have the opportunity to volunteer in numerous areas such as divorce and family law, bankruptcy and consumer law, and reentry matters, among others.
“Working with VLJ has provided me with experiences not normally available to law students,” said Perri, who has been volunteering at VLJ since last semester. “As a third-year law student, under attorney supervision, I appeared in municipal court to advocate for clients resolving motor vehicle suspensions and in family court during default divorce proceedings. The skills I developed here will undoubtedly carry over and contribute meaningfully to my future work.”
Rutgers’ Professor Taja-Nia Henderson, who is part of VLJ’s Newark Reentry Legal Services (ReLeSe) Steering Committee, 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 of her students elected to spend 30 hours with VLJ’s ReLeSe program, which helps Essex County residents who have criminal records with driver’s license issues, criminal record expungements and/or child support modifications. Working in teams, the students represented nine clients in overcoming driver’s license suspensions stemming from outstanding municipal court matters, unsatisfied civil judgments, and surcharges owed to the Motor Vehicle Commission.
“Volunteer Lawyers for Justice consistently provides our students with incredible pro bono and internship opportunities,” commented Jessica Kitson, director of the Eric Neisser Public Interest Program. “I am confident that these positive experiences will result in our students continuing to engage in pro-bono work as practicing attorneys.”
Another project stemming from the partnership focuses on VLJ’s divorce and consumer law legal aid. Under the tutelage of Professor Jack Feinstein, law students attend VLJ’s monthly Divorce Clinic and weekly Newark Legal Advice & Resource Clinic for Consumers. At these clinics, students handle a number of responsibilities, including screening clients for program eligibility according to financial guidelines, observing attorney consultations, drafting pro se pleadings and reviewing supportive documents.
“Rutgers’ students come to our clinics wanting to learn and do a great job,” said Cathy Keenan, director of VLJ. “They frequently volunteer at a clinic multiple times per semester and help in any capacity where needed. Their support is invaluable, enabling us to aid more clients at our clinics. We are very appreciative for Rutgers’ commitment to VLJ and social justice.”
Rutgers School of Law-Newark’s Bankruptcy Pro Bono Project
Last year, the law school began its Bankruptcy Pro Bono Project. VLJ has referred more than 25 clients to the project, which pairs volunteer lawyers with law students to represent clients needing Chapter 7 bankruptcy 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 work to obtain a discharge of the client’s debt.
VLJ is a state-wide 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation based in Newark. VLJ provides comprehensive legal services to economically disadvantaged adults, children and families in New Jersey to ensure fair and equal treatment within the legal system. Programs include free legal counsel and advice, educational seminars on various legal matters, and direct representation for at-risk individuals facing critical civil legal issues.