The wrath of Superstorm Sandy continues to take its toll on many New Jersey residents, specifically those dealing with legal matters directly related to the once-in-a-century storm. To aid those individuals, Volunteer Lawyers for Justice (VLJ) has created the Disaster Legal Response and Preparedness (DLRP) Program to provide them with pro bono legal services. Victims of Sandy have a number of ways to access assistance from the VLJ program including free legal clinics in Monmouth, Ocean and Hudson Counties; extended representation; and a statewide hotline staffed by law students and VLJ staff and volunteer attorneys.
"Although it has been several months since Superstorm Sandy devastated parts of the state, some legal needs of victims of the storm are just now becoming acute. VLJ and our volunteers are poised to help with longer-term issues such as rebuilding and navigating the insurance claims and appeals process," said Karen Sacks, Esq., founding executive director of VLJ.
At the free legal clinics, VLJ and its volunteer attorneys provide counsel, advice and limited scope assistance to participants. Matters often range from insurance, housing and landlord/tenant issues to public benefits, and FEMA appeals, among others.
Volunteer attorneys at the clinics are from Citi, Duane Morris LLP, Gibbons PC, Jackson Lewis LLP, McCarter & English LLP and Patton Boggs LLP. The clinics will be held twice a month at Brookdale Community College's Hazlet campus and Hoboken's Hurricane Resource Center. Future clinics are planned in an Ocean County location and in Jersey City. A regularly updated list of dates and times are available on VLJ's website.
All victims of the storm with legal issues in New Jersey, regardless of their income and assets are eligible to meet with a volunteer attorney at the legal clinic for advice and brief service. Clinic participants needing extended representation are screened for financial eligibility and VLJ will attempt to locate a volunteer attorney to take on full representation of the client's legal issue. Applicants will be screened by VLJ for eligibility, but generally, a family of four must have an annual income that is less than $71,000. Applicants will also be asked questions about the value of their assets.
"A staggering number of New Jersey residents have legal issues stemming from Sandy, but legal resources for those who can't afford help are limited. Our goal is to fill that gap," added Sacks.
Another key component of the DLRP program is its statewide hotline - (855) 301-2525. Intake staff is available to answer calls on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays between 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will screen cases for potential placement with volunteer lawyers. Callers may also leave a message on the hotline after hours and receive a prompt call-back from a VLJ volunteer or staff member to address their issues.
"The response from the legal, business and non-profit communities has been tremendous," added Sacks. "Merck, McCarter & English, and the Robin Hood Foundation are generously funding the program, and we have more than 100 volunteer attorneys, those from law firms and solo practitioners alike. We are extremely thankful for all of their efforts."
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.