In honor of National Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Pro Bono Net has lined up a variety of guest bloggers from law firms, legal aid organizations and elsewhere to share their pro bono ideas and experiences. Check back each day between Oct. 22-26 for new posts, and visit the Celebrate Pro Bono site to learn how you can get involved in events near you.
Below, we are pleased to present a guest post from Luce Pierre-Russon, a third year law student at St. John’s University School of Law.
I am a third year law student at St. John’s University School of Law and I am often asked what area of law I intend to specialize in. It is often
difficult to answer that question when I have not been exposed to all areas of the law. Although I have many years of experience in the legal field, it is still hard to confine myself to a specific subject. I enjoyed working in real estate and immigration, and my favorite subjects in law school were torts, civil procedure, and constitutional law. However, if asked a more general question of what I would like to do with my law degree, I can answer without hesitation: help the less fortunate people of my community, and use my knowledge of the law to assist those who do not have opportunities that we often take for granted.
I grew up in a community where a substantial portion of the population is analphabet and many are too embarrassed to state so. Their pride, lack of formal education, and inability to communicate are often taken advantage of. They do not respond to a court order because they do not know what it is or due to fear of their immigration status. Often they will not report an abusive husband or a crime to the authorities or do not understand a credit card statement or the consequences of a mortgage. These situations often lead to irreparable consequences that could have been avoided if they knew where to go and how to respond to circumstances that may seem straightforward to most.
I have frequently worked with the less privileged. Prior to attending St. John’s University, I worked with the Nassau County Lawyer’s Services, assisting tenants in eviction proceedings in the Nassau County District Court by I helped with intake interviews and settlement negotiations between landlords and tenants. I also assisted many Haitians with immigration matters after the Earthquake in Haiti. Many were unable to return home and granted temporary protective status in the U.S.; I assisted them with their application status, interviewed potential applicants, and provided translation services to those who did not speak English.
One of the many reasons St. John’s University appealed to me was its reputation and significant contributions to Public Interest work. One of the pro bono opportunities the University offers is to work with the New York State Access to Justice Volunteer Lawyer for the Day Program as a student volunteer in Queens County Civil Court (this program was funded by an Access to Justice Grant awarded to St. John’s University School of Law). I participated almost every week in the program, using my academic knowledge to assist litigants with consumer debts issues. They all came to the program seeking legal advice and assistance with court appearances, motions, pleading, discovery etc. It was deeply gratifying to utilize the knowledge acquired after many class hours and hours of study to help and address various concerns that these litigants had, from statute of limitations questions to service of process to affirmative defenses questions. The program was one of the most valuable experiences that I had in law school and I truly enjoyed my work with the New York State Access to Justice Program and the daily contact with clients, judges, and lawyers.
As part of the program I also participated in a lecture in a Senior Citizens’ home in Queens aimed at informing the elderly of the legal consequences of credit card debts. We informed them of the consequences of defaulting on such a debt and emphasized the importance of seeking legal advice if they are served with a summons and complaint and of answering the complaint. Because the elderly population’s sources of income are often limited to social security and limited pension income, they often use credit cards as a mean to sustain their daily living expenses. As a result, they are often significantly indebted with various consumer obligations. It was particularly important to target this group and to inform them of the legal consequences of these debts and to teach preventive measures that can be taken to avoid defaults and judgments that will not only affect their credit, but may also affect other sources of other income and properties they might have.
Working with the Access to Justice Program was an invaluable experience. I was able to assist various groups of unrepresented clients with court appearances, settlement negotiations, and legal counseling while sharpening my legal skills. Because of the experience with the Access to Justice program, I am now working as a legal intern in the Consumer Justice for the Elderly Clinic of St. John’s University School of Law where I work daily with elderly clients of the Queens community in similar circumstances. After graduation, I hope to continue working in public interest law, assisting underrepresented clients of my community, helping them understand the legal system, and ensuring that they receive proper and effective legal services.