But the Queens Volunteer Lawyers Project (QVLP), which is part of the Queens County Bar Association, has provided free legal services to Queens residents who cannot afford a lawyer since 1991.
Volunteer lawyers are assigned to represent people in Housing Court to avoid or delay eviction; in Family Court to secure custody or visitation rights or child support; or in administrative hearings to obtain government benefits which have been denied, to name a few situations.
Staff attorney Charlie Giudice said when he went to law school, he had no idea he would be doing this today. But after getting laid off, he began to do volunteer work and really fell in love with it.
“We’re supposed to give back to the community,” he said.
Each year, they are contacted by 5,000 people alone seeking help with legal issues ranging from credit card debt, foreclosures, or divorces.
Executive Director Mark Weliky said since 2008, foreclosure rates have skyrocketed and even though the recession ended, many people still come to them for help. He said the banks and the courts know people are not often represented by attorneys and take advantage of this.
Weliky and Giudice both agree it is tough to hear about people’s difficult situations, but said it’s important to remove their emotions.
“Certainly, I feel sorry for a lot of the people that I end up meeting,” Giudice said. “You have to keep the emotions separated from the advice as much as possible.”
Weliky said QVLP can't help everyone who contacts them, so a big part of their work is coordinating with other non-profits to provide assistance.
Every Friday, the group hosts a Civil Legal Advice and Resource Office at the Civil Courthouse at 89-17 Sutphin Boulevard from 1 to 5 p.m. Residents are asked to bring all of their paperwork pertaining to their case and meet with staff attorneys or trained volunteers.
“The overwhelming majority of the people we see at the clinic do have a favorable outcome,” Giudice said.