The VLP’s primary referral areas are Family Law, Elder Law, and Consumer Law, including Chapter 7 bankruptcy, CLARO, and the Foreclosure Intervention Program. In addition to serving those in need through direct representation, the VLP has established several innovative education and outreach programs for seniors and self-represented litigants.
VLP volunteer attorneys provide assistance to families and individuals in crisis, providing representation and counsel on a variety of family law matters including child and spousal support, custody, visitation and uncontested divorce. The family law program is designed with special concern for women who are victims of domestic violence and with a keen sensitivity to resolving familial conflicts with a minimum of disruption and animosity.
The VLP has an active self-represented uncontested divorce program that assists many women and men whose lives are in crisis or at a standstill because they were abandoned or are victims of domestic violence and/or emotional abuse. Most are referred to the VLP by the Office of the Self-Represented in Supreme Court. Others learn about the VLP clinic from other legal service providers.
Senior citizens have special needs that often make it more difficult for them to gain access to the justice system, and indigence compounds the problem. A primary goal of the VLP’s Elder Law program is to empower seniors by educating them about their legal rights and options.
Senior Legal Education and Assistance Program (Senior LEAP)
Volunteer attorneys make scheduled presentations at senior centers across Brooklyn to teach the elderly about the importance of advance medical directives. Following presentations, a question and answer session identifies other areas of concern to seniors. Follow-up appointments may be made with seniors who have specific legal issues and meet the VLP financial eligibility criteria.
Volunteer attorneys also provide assistance with creating living wills and designating power of attorney, emphasizing that a low income should not prevent individuals from the dignity of future arrangements.
Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
Consumer bankruptcy protection is often chosen as a last resort by individuals and families facing insurmountable debt after trying to cope with job loss, a family crisis, or serious medical problems. VLP volunteer attorneys assist individuals who need to re-order their finances by drafting bankruptcy petitions and by representing them in Chapter 7 proceedings in the United State Bankruptcy Court, Eastern District of New York.
Civil Legal Advice and Resource Office (CLARO) The Civil Legal Advice and Resource Office (CLARO) is a free, weekly walk-in clinic at Kings County Civil Court where consumers can obtain free information about debt collection. CLARO is a joint project of the VLP and Brooklyn Law School, with the collaboration of MFY Legal Services and Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project (NEDAP). It was created in cooperation with Kings County Civil Court to address the needs of unrepresented consumer debt litigants. CLARO is held every Thursday at Kings County Civil Court (141 Livingston Street) from 2:30 to 4:30 PM and 6:00 – 8:00 PM.
At the start of 2013, the VLP expanded its program to full direct representation for Brooklyn residents facing foreclosure. VLP volunteer attorneys represent individuals throughout the whole foreclosure process, including foreclosure motion practice, bad faith hearings, foreclosure defense litigation, and settlement conferences in Kings County Supreme Court. The VLP also runs a clinic three times a week, the Foreclosure Legal Assistance Group (“FLAG”) in Kings County Supreme Court. FLAG offers information and resources on how to proceed with the foreclosure process to individuals who have already attended pre-settlement conferences. Staffed by VLP volunteer attorneys and specially trained and supervised Brooklyn Law School interns, FLAG is open every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from 2:30 to 4:00 p.m.
Article 17A Guardianship
In January 2009, the VLP initiated a multifaceted legal services project assisting clients with obtaining guardianship of a mentally retarded or developmentally disabled person. In New York State, parents or guardians of persons who are mentally retarded or developmentally disabled are considered the natural guardians of their children until their 18th birthday. After a person reaches 18 years of age, he or she is presumed to be a legally competent adult and able to manage his or her own affairs. If an individual is not able to manage on their own, a parent or legal guardian must obtain legal guardianship under Article 17A of the S.C.P.A. Volunteer attorneys assist with Article 17A guardianship proceedings in Kings County Surrogate’s Court to designate a parent, sibling, other relative friend or an organization to act on behalf of a person with mental retardation and/or developmental disabilities who has attained the age of 18. Before the court will appoint a guardian, it must be satisfied that the guardianship is necessary and that it is in the best interest of the disabled person. At this time, there are no other organizations in Brooklyn providing assistance with Article 17A petitions.
If you are not a resident of Brooklyn or the VLP is unable to assist you with the guardianship petition, here is information on starting the process in New York:
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
In 2012 President Obama announced that thousands of young immigrants under age 31 who arrived in the U.S. as children may now apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which provides protection from deportation and permission to work legally. This will be a life-changing opportunity for many of these young New Yorkers. In partnership with Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) and community organizations, VLP volunteers provide immigration information, screening and assistance to low-income immigrant youth in Brooklyn seeking to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Through a series of ongoing weekend clinics, volunteer attorneys meet one-on-one with interested applicants and their families to provide information, advice and DACA application assistance.
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