Volunteer Lawyers for Justice ‘floored’ by contribution from Amazon

Volunteer Lawyers for Justice, a Newark-based nonprofit that provides free civil legal services for New Jersey residents living at or below the poverty level through in-house lawyers and pro bono lawyers throughout the legal community, has received a generous donation from Amazon through its relationship with Audible, the organization said.

VLJ has partnered with Audible’s legal department, which also provides pro bono legal services to client populations in dire need of help

With this unexpected support from Amazon, VLJ officials said they will be able to continue to change lives through legal assistance, especially for those who have suffered disproportionately as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The amount of the donation was not announced.

VLJ Executive Director Cathy Keenan said she was stunned by the gesture.

“I was floored,” she said. “We are so proud of our partnership with Audible and our work in the community. To know that a large corporation like Amazon has taken notice of our efforts and invested in our pro bono model is certainly something to be proud of.”

Audible General Counsel Stas Zakharenko said the donation follows Amazon’s efforts in the state.

“Amazon is deeply invested in New Jersey and is proud to support VLJ and build on the working relationship with Audible legal to provide pro bono assistance to members of our community who are in extreme need of free legal help,” he said.

VLJ bills itself as a comprehensive legal services program based in Newark, but with a statewide reach. Its mission is to improve the lives of economically disadvantaged and at-risk adults, children and families in New Jersey by empowering them with the tools, advice and pro bono representation to obtain fair and equal treatment within the legal system.

The organization attempts to ensure fair access to the legal system through partnerships with corporations and hundreds of volunteer attorneys. Each year, VLJ’s work impacts more than 3,000 people — including veterans, children, tenants, families and victims of human trafficking.

VLJ coordinates 10 pro bono programs, including a program that assists renters facing eviction.

While there were almost 160,000 eviction notices filed in New Jersey before the pandemic, experts estimate that number will double in 2021 as a result of lost jobs and wages from COVID-19. VLJ officials also said they expect an uptick in clients who will need assistance with mounting debt, education issues, issues related to employability and family law matters.

Keenan said the support from Amazon will go a long way in ensuring VLJ has the capacity to train and mentor volunteer attorneys and to take cases in-house so clients’ voices are lifted in a complex and daunting legal system.

U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-10th Dist.) said he was thrilled to see the organization get help.

“Volunteer Lawyers for Justice is a great organization that helps low-income residents of Newark and New Jersey get the legal services they need,” he said. “I know that Amazon’s gift will help the organization to keep people in their homes and settle their debts affordably during this coronavirus global pandemic.”