Monday Night Law Program Sees Increase in Financial Cases
The Monday Night Law Program, a nearly 20-year-old project of the Committee on Legal Services for Persons of Moderate Means, has seen an increase over the last year in clients seeking assistance with financial concerns, like bankruptcy and credit card debt. Keeping pace, the program has expanded, training more volunteer attorneys and incorporating specialized training in small business issues.
“Originally, this program ran one night a month,” said Russ Bleemer, the program’s organizer, who has been with Monday Night Law since its creation. “Recently, we’ve been running the clinic every Monday night. This year we trained well over 100 volunteer attorneys, and expanded into another room. There is a definite demand for our services.”
In 2009, the Monday Night Law project served 1,210 clients, advising them on five main issue areas: bankruptcy, matrimonial issues, landlord-tenant disputes, employment issues, and small business affairs. Bleemer said that he has seen a big increase in clients seeking assistance with credit card debt, along with bankruptcy. Now that volunteers are better trained at small business issues, there has been a jump in small business consultations as well.
Monday Night Law differs from some other City Bar pro bono projects, in that clients receive 30-minute consultations, rather than full-blown representation. While the consultation can be short, the consultation can have a huge impact. Many clients come in with issues that can be solved with some sound advice.
“We try and help them straighten it out on their own with their landlord, roommate, employer, whoever they’re entangled with,” said Bleemer. “Some issues, like divorces, are able to be handled on your own. And that’s what the justice system is about: being approachable and able to be handled by everyone.”
Joe Turano, of Soleil & Company, P.C., is a first-time pro bono lawyer who studied maritime law, but enjoys advising clients on civil issues. “We lay down the groundwork of what needs to get done,” said Turano.
Many of the volunteers come from diverse legal backgrounds. Thomas Ross is a Senior Appellate Counsel for the Kings County District Attorney’s office, but has volunteered with the Monday Night Law Program for over 10 years. “It gets me out into the world, helping people,” said Ross. After dealing with crime all day long, he says, helping untangle civil matters is a “nice change.”