A rebranding has transformed former New York state’s Monroe County Volunteer Legal Services Project into JustCause. The organization is making a small request of Rochester attorneys: donate just one hour of pro bono work this year. Considering most legal firms benefit greatly from pro bono work — as do their attorneys and clients — this isn’t a big ask. And it’s good for the community at large, too.
Executive Director Tina Foster is hoping that the 15-employee organization has 2,000 sign ups for the year. She said, “JustCause is a different kind of organization; we want our brand to communicate that to volunteers and clients alike. Law, yes; community, yes, but there’s more. There’s passion, there’s connection, there’s compassion…this is not a spectator sport. Justice requires action.”
Foster acknowledged that the last year alone saw 2,000 volunteers, and right now the rebranded organization is trying to keep commitment to its goals leveled out. Together, those volunteers handled around 10,000 pro bono cases — a huge accomplishment.
One of the biggest practice areas in need of pro bono work is Social Security and Disability Law. That’s because these clients are generally living in poverty — especially before they receive these benefits, which are far more likely to be denied without qualified legal assistance. For more information, visit website.
New York State Senator Jeremy Cooney, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, and State Supreme Court Justice Craig Doran are all on board and expect great things of JustCause.
Cooney said, “Justice is action work, and we have to remember that at this time in our country, in New York, and right here in Rochester.
The state budget will support JustCause with a $3.5 million package for legal assistance primarily for Upstate NY residents. The city is its own entity. For comparison’s sake, JustCause has a total operating budget of $1.4 million a year.
Doran said, “Who do you go to when there’s no one else to go to for justice? That’s a word we use frequently, there’s a lot of talk about justice, who do you go to? The answer to that question is the people who work with, and volunteer for, JustCause.”
JustCause made strides toward alleviating pandemic financial stress for many impoverished families by partnering with local governments. It recently launched a county program called “right to counsel,” to support tenants who were facing eviction without any legal representation. This followed renewed interest in such programs for the past two years, which reached a boiling point because of the coronavirus pandemic.
JustCause is asking for only one hour of time per year — but most attorneys who join the program will give many more.