A recent decision by the Supreme Court of New Jersey that clears the way for legal pro bono initiatives in the state is being hailed as a great victory in the fight to provide legal assistance for people in need. The issue arose when employees of Lowenstein Sandler LLC, a New Jersey-based firm, were asked to volunteer for the New Jersey Volunteer Lawyers for Justice (VLJ) low-income bankruptcy clinic. The attorneys were concerned about potential conflicts of interest, so the VLJ requested an opinion from the New Jersey Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics (ACPE). The ACPE stated that volunteers should inform all clients and receive consent from each participant, which would have made it difficult for attorneys to volunteer. The New Jersey Supreme Court overruled the ACPE opinion.
The New Jersey court’s decision was influenced by a formal ethics opinion issued by the City Bar Committee on Professional and Judicial Ethics, which concluded that in certain circumstances lawyers who worked for large commercial law firms could represent low-income debtors and their creditors as long as the cases were unrelated. The opinion removed a major obstacle for New York attorneys interested in working with the City Bar Justice Center, a project of the New York City Bar Association, and led to the creation of a model pro bono program that has been duplicated in other states.
Employees of Rosicki, Rosicki & Associates are members of the New York City Bar Association.