The staff and volunteers with the Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP) provide free civil legal services to people and small nonprofit organizations that otherwise could not afford legal representation. VLP recruits and trains volunteer lawyers, who work pro bono. The organization was founded in 1983 and incorporated as a nonprofit five years later. Currently, about 400 Erie County lawyers volunteer with VLP and provide almost $1 million in services a year.
VLP opens about 3,000 cases annually and refers one-third of those to lawyers who provide pro bono work. On the other cases, VLP volunteers either offer full representation or advice. The nonprofit estimates that it saves taxpayers about $1 million a year by helping people to stay off welfare and avoid homelessness by ensuring they are receiving the proper benefits.
The nonprofit has implemented several programs that have become national models, including the Attorney of the Morning Program in Buffalo City Court. Through this program, an attorney trained in housing and tenant law represents all defendants in need dealing with eviction issues that morning.
Deborah Gallo, an associate partner with Rosicki, Rosicki & Associates, is a member of the Erie County Bar Association.