The mission of the Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP) is to ensure that the legal system is accessible to those who, because of special needs or the overwhelming burden of poverty, would not otherwise have their rights protected or their voices heard. Since 1990, the VLP has harnessed the powerful pro bono commitment of the private bar to provide critical civil legal services and equal access to the justice system to thousands of Brooklyn residents. As an essential legal lifeline, the VLP remains uniquely responsive to the evolving legal needs of Brooklyn's overlooked and underserved communities.
Miguelina gave birth to her son Moises in June 1998 in the Dominican Republic. Moises was delayed in meeting developmental milestones and was diagnosed with autism at 6-years-old and started to experience seizures at 8-years-old. His father, a pediatrician, claimed that Moises was faking his condition and failed to properly supervise Moises. While in his father’s care, Moises broke open a mercury thermometer and consumed the mercury inside and Moises also jumped through a second-story window. His father often punished him for behavior that resulted from his autism. Moises’ parents divorced, a custody battle ensued and Miguelina was granted sole custody. His father never exercised his visitation rights and only paid child support for a few years before stopping altogether. Miguelina brought Moises to the U.S. when he was 16-years-old.
Miguelina contacted the VLP in Spring 2017 for assistance in obtaining guardianship of Moises. Moises is nonverbal and only communicates through gestures and noises. He cannot make decisions for himself and requires assistance and supervision at all times, even while at home. Miguelina, along with her daughter and a home attendant provided through a not-for-profit agency assist Moises with all the tasks involved in daily living and he attends a specialized program during the day.
The VLP assigned Miguelina’s 17A guardianship case to a team of volunteers from a partnering major law firm. In addition to guiding Miguelina through the maze of the evaluations, medical clearances and background checks required to demonstrate that Moises needed a guardian and that she was an appropriate guardian, the team of attorneys made a compelling and convincing motion to the court to request that notice to Moises’ father be waived since he had abandoned Moises years ago. After the court was satisfied with the filings, a hearing was scheduled in front of a Surrogate’s Court judge where Miguelina testified about her son’s condition and her ability and desire to be appointed his guardian. Miguelina was granted guardianship of Moises in May 2018 and now has a strong sense of security and increased optimism for her son’s future.
Child Support and Custody/Visitation: volunteers help families and individuals in crisis, providing representation, advice and counsel on child and spousal support and custody/visitation matters.
Uncontested Divorce: Volunteers assist self-represented women and men whose lives are at a standstill due to family breakdowns.
17A Guardianship: Volunteers assist with Article 17A Guardianship proceedings in Kings County Surrogate's Court to designate family members or friends to act on behalf of adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
Wills/Advance Medical Directives: Volunteers draft wills and powers of attorney documents, emphasizing that a low income should not prevent individuals from the dignity of future arrangements.
NGF Senior Legal Education and Assistance Program (NGF Senior LEAP): Volunteers give community education presentations at senior centers, places of worship, and other venues throughout Brooklyn focused on the importance of advance medical directives, strategies for staying at home and aging in place, and other elder law issues.
Chapter 7 Bankruptcy: Volunteers assist individuals who need to re-order their finances by drafting bankruptcy petitions and by representing them in Chapter 7 proceedings in the US Bankruptcy Court, Eastern District of New York.
Civil Legal Advice and Resource Office (CLARO): A free, weekly walk-in clinic at Kings County Civil Court where volunteers provide consumers with information and legal assistance in matters related to debts.
Volunteer Lawyer for the Day (VLFD): Volunteers provide limited scope representation to litigants in consumer debt actions in Kings County Civil Court under the supervision of a VLP staff attorney.
Direct Representation: Volunteers provide free legal assistance for Brooklyn homeowners facing foreclosure.
Advice for Homeowners: Volunteers provide legal information, advice, and brief services for homeowners during scheduled weekly and monthly clinics in the Kings County Supreme Court and Brooklyn Borough Hall.
The VLP partners with other organizations to provide critical assistance to immigrants and other foreign-born New Yorkers. This includes assisting parents with emergency planning in the event they are detained or deported, helping individuals complete naturalization papers to apply for U.S. citizenship, and organizing trainings on immigration law for volunteer attorneys.
In partnership with OATH and Brooklyn Law School, the VLP launched a program in 2018 where trained volunteer attorneys and law students provide representation for the day to homeowners in Department of Building matters. Low-income homeowners are often unaware of their rights and the law, and volunteers assist with legal arguments, advise on compliance and correcting defects, and represent pro se homeowners for the day at their hearings. Volunteer opportunities with the OATH project are held every Monday between 9 am – 1 pm.
The VLP is committed to providing rewarding opportunities for volunteers to make meaningful contributions to the Brooklyn community.
Hone your skills, gain legal experience, earn CLE credits, receive malpractice coverage, and network, all while making a difference in the lives of those in need.
The VLP works with volunteers from every legal background: attorneys from law firms and corporate legal departments, solo practitioners, recent law graduates, and law students.
Unified in purpose, all VLP volunteers have the desire to use their unique skills and talents to address the critical legal needs of low-income, underserved residents of Brooklyn.