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NJSBA Pro Bono Awards honor lawyers for helping New Jersey’s most vulnerable
When the New Jersey State Bar Association (NJSBA) held its 2019 Pro Bono Awards Reception on Oct. 24 at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick, attendees heard about the often unsung heroes of the legal world who donate countless hours to help the poor, the disenfranchised and the most vulnerable in New Jersey.
The awards recognize exemplary pro bono work that has a significant impact on access to justice for underserved communities in the state.
Fighting for child asylum cases
For the attorneys at the Short Hills firm of DLA Piper, which won a Pro Bono Award for large firms, the cases often involve children who have fled violent and traumatic experiences from the turbulent Northern Triangle countries in Central America: Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Many of the cases involve children whose family members were gunned down by gangs. One case involved a teenager who survived years of ¬physical and emotional abuse because he loved folkloric dance. Another involved a South Asian teenager who was beaten and stabbed after being targeted by a powerful political family intent on punishing his father.
“The attorneys at DLA Piper do not shy away from the difficult cases involving years of severe childhood trauma,” Carrey Wong, managing attorney for Kids in Need of Defense in Newark, wrote in her nomination of DLA Piper. “DLA Piper has worked diligently with these children who continue to face the lifelong impact of the abuse, patiently shepherding them through the immigration process while also focusing in on other day-to-day challenges and advocating for social services to promote their wellbeing and continued recovery.”
The firm estimates it donated more than 2,000 pro bono hours in 2018, and nearly 14,000 pro bono hours in New Jersey since it started.
Focus on social justice
The Nissenbaum Law Group in Union will receive the Pro Bono Award for small firms. It has formed an internal pro bono legal team of four attorneys and three paralegals who meet twice a week to coordinate their work for a select group of nonprofit social justice clients. Over the last three years, the firm has developed what it calls a transactional pro bono model to provide legal services to a rotating list of five nonprofit entities and a sixth that it incubates. The firm spent more than 1,000 hours providing pro bono services in 2018, and more than 10,000 hours in total since 1997.
The firm handles a variety of legal matters for these clients by representing them in a holistic manner. In addition to attending to their day-to-day legal needs, it also helps them achieve their respective missions. The latter includes such items as drafting proposed state legislation and accompanying legal analysis memos, preparing petitions for rule-making seeking regulatory change, filing public comment on proposed federal and state regulation, preparing policy papers in areas of social concern, and appearing as amicus curiae. The Nissenbaum Law Group’s nonprofit clients focus on a range of issues, including women’s reproductive rights, economic justice, criminal justice reform, racial justice, environmental concerns and immigrant rights.
Expunging criminal records, helping low-income people
The Pro Bono New Attorney Awards will be given to David F. Roeber, an attorney with Stradley, Ronon, Stevens and Young in Cherry Hill, and Kaitlyn Stone, an attorney at Drinker Biddle & Reath in Florham Park.
Roeber helped develop and launch UrbanPromise Legal Clinic, now Volunteer UP Legal Clinic. As lead attorney, he provided legal support to more than 100 low-income individuals in Camden and surrounding communities. Roeber has donated nearly 500 hours of pro bono work during his career, including more than 200 in 2018.
In a nomination letter, Roeber was lauded for his “dedication of time, ¬passion and knowledge [that] led to many lives being bettered from quality legal support and representation and a community gaining much-needed resources.”
Stone is a pro bono lawyer with ¬Volunteer Lawyers for Justice and Legal Services of Northwest New Jersey, where since 2015 she has helped nearly 80 low-income clients expunge criminal records, helping them overcome some of the most challenging obstacles to successful community reintegration. Stone has spent more than 300 hours serving pro bono clients throughout her career, at a value of nearly $100,000, including 185 hours in 2018.
Karen Robinson, a staff attorney for Volunteer Lawyers for Justice, wrote in her nomination, “Kate is an exceptional and empathetic volunteer who gives freely of her time and talent to assist a population often overlooked and underserved.”
NJSBA Pro Bono Task Force
The goal of the Pro Bono Task Force is to make recommendations that will encourage and expand pro bono participation by the private bar. Read the Task Force's report: Closing the Justice Gap - May 2012.
For more information on closing the justice gap, and New Jersey attorneys' pro bono obligations and opportunities, watch the video created by the New Jersey State Bar Association and New Jersey Judiciary.
Additional training videos for attorneys receiving pro bono assignments
Domestic Violence Contempt Matters
Municipal Court Appeals - June 2014
Legal Services of New Jersey
Click here to access the Legal Services of New Jersey website, for additional information about pro bono opportunities, legal services, training for pro bono when available, and regional legal service offices.
ABA Center for Pro Bono
Click here for the ABA Center for Pro Bono