Created in 2001 by a small group of advocates Volunteer Lawyers for Justice is a legal services organization headquartered in Essex County and utilizes the skills and dedication of staff and volunteer attorneys to provide free civil legal assistance to New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents.
To improve the lives of economically disadvantaged adults, children and families in New Jersey by empowering them with tools, advice and pro bono representation with the goal of securing fair and equal treatment within the legal system.
VLJ strives to meet its motto of “Taking Cases. Changing Lives.” It does that by seeking to increase the breadth of pro bono legal services offered; recruiting, training and supporting new and veteran volunteer attorneys; working effectively with social service providers to identify emerging legal issues throughout the state; and securing the generous and necessary funds to support VLJ’s programming.
VLJ currently operates several distinct legal projects in the areas of special education and bullying, tenants’ defense, prisoner re-entry, divorce, consumer defense, bankruptcy, disaster response and holistic legal services to veterans, survivors of human trafficking and families within Newark’s South Ward neighborhood. Those programs administer legal assistance through legal counsel and advice clinics, educational or “know-your-rights” seminars and direct referral of cases to volunteer attorneys who are trained, recruited and mentored by VLJ.
- Opened 1,353 new legal cases, which impacted 4,400 low-income and vulnerable New Jersey residents.
- Recipient of the New Jersey State Governor’s Jefferson Awards, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious recognition program for volunteer/public service.
- VLJ hosts up to 150 legal clinics, 12-20 free legal “know-your-rights” seminars and several continuing legal education trainings for New Jersey attorneys each year.
- Developed New Jersey’s first program to provide holistic legal services to survivors of human trafficking — the New Jersey Human Trafficking Victims’ Legal Assistance Program.
- Worked with Public Service Enterprise Group’s legal department to development a pilot Veterans Legal Program, which serves approximately 250 veterans a year.
- Created the Disaster Legal Response Program, a statewide legal services program responding to the devastation of Superstorm Sandy.
VLJ is a privately-run, 501(c)(3) organization, receiving generous support from corporations, law firms, foundations, government funders and individual donors. VLJ coordinates several fundraising initiatives throughout the year, including an annual giving campaign geared towards licensed attorneys, small networking events and an annual fundraising dinner held in the fall. VLJ is mindful of the scarcity of funding for legal services. Accordingly, VLJ leverages every dollar it receives to provide the maximum amount of services for a minimal investment.
VLJ’s largest donors include AT&T, BASF Corp., Bershad Family Foundation, Lowenstein Sandler, Legal Services Foundation, McCarter & English, Merck & Co., Panasonic Corp. of North America, Prudential Financial Inc., PSEG Foundation, New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety Division of Criminal Justice, South Ward Promise Neighborhood, and Weil Gotshal & Manges.
VLJ is fortunate to view and address emerging civil legal barriers faced by New Jersey’s low-income communities, by designing programming that connects them to some of New Jersey’s expert attorneys. All attorneys have a civic duty to provide their time and expertise to all people, not just those who can afford it, and as an experienced pro bono provider, VLJ is positioned to connect attorneys who want to give back to their community with the individuals who need the legal assistance.
Serving: All of New Jersey
Key members: Cathy Keenan, executive director; Jessica Kitson, managing attorney; Jaclyn Kramer, development director
To learn more about VLJ, contact Jessica Kitson, managing attorney and coordinator of VLJ’s Human Trafficking Victims’ Legal Assistance Program, at 973-645-1951, ext. 116.