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Brooklyn’s Volunteer Lawyers Project working from home through the pandemic

April 3, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
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The Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project has closed its office on Court Street like so many other lawyers’ offices in the borough, but its attorneys are maintaining the practice by working from home through the pandemic.

“Our staff is working remotely, our intake lines are open, and to the extent possible, we are meeting with clients via calls and web conferences and coordinating with our dedicated volunteers,” said Melissa Starr, senior director of development and strategic initiatives at the VLP. “We will continue to work tirelessly to address our clients’ needs during these challenging times and remain a vital legal resource for thousands of Brooklynites.”

Lawyers working pro bono helped the VLP to assist community members in Bedford-Stuyvesant last summer to avoid tax liens that could potentially cost them their homes. Photo: Rob Abruzzese/Brooklyn Eagle

The Criminal Court and the Family Court are currently the only courts open right now via videoconferencing, and even they are only taking emergency cases. The other courts are expected to operate in a similar capacity by Friday, according to Chief Judge Janet DiFiore. Once they are reopened, many expect a rush to file cases.

The VLP expects that many of these cases will need to be brought, unfortunately, from some of the most vulnerable people in Brooklyn, since some communities are facing acute financial challenges or being targeted for pandemic-related scams.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Until the courts are reopened, the VLP has joined other consumer advocate groups that have urged a lift on enforcement of consumer judgements by use of a bank levy or income execution.

VLP attorneys have been busy lately advising clients on consumer cases, which are currently being adjourned. They are also working with clients dealing with credit card, auto loan or personal loan debt, as well as medical and student loan debt.

Some of the biggest issues faced by Brooklynites are homeowners and renters who are struggling to pay their bills due to lack of work. VLP is helping homeowners take advantage of forbearances, which can extend loan terms with no late payments in many cases.

“All eviction proceedings have been stayed until June 20, 2020,” Starr said. “This does not mean that money is not owed, but perhaps eligible relief programs will be created. Supposedly new eviction proceedings are still being filed, but people cannot be defaulted for not appearing. Essential applications, lockouts, repair orders, are allowed.”

The Volunteer Lawyers Project helps to provide low-income Brooklynites and New Yorkers with pro bono attorneys. It routinely hosts clinics and continuing legal education seminars in which it provides free training for attorneys who agree to take cases pro bono. Currently in-person CLEs are suspended, but expect the group to organize videoconference meetings in the coming weeks.

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