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Evictions often have life-changing consequences, resulting in homelessness, health effects, and disruption in education and employment. Volunteers will help clients avoid disruptive displacement by negotiating with the opposing party (usually represented by counsel) and may represent the client before a judge. Most hearings are in Municipal Court. These cases are a great fit for an attorneys who want a courtroom case involving negotiation, without the time commitment of a longer trial. Volunteers usually have about 10 days to prepare for the hearing, and spend a half-day in court on the hearing date.
The divorce process, which can have significant impacts on household income, housing, and more, is nearly impossible to navigate without an attorney. For clients whose divorces involve distribution of marital property, VIP is the only option for free legal assistance. In these cases, typical steps include filing and serving the divorce complaint; engaging in discovery to gather information on assets, debts, and income; negotiating with the opposing party/counsel, as needed; and submitting a proposed distribution to the court for approval. These cases are a great fit for volunteers who want to develop litigation skills, such as filing pleadings, discovery practice, and trial advocacy.
Although these divorces do not involve marital property or economic relief, they involve a process that is nearly impossible to complete without an attorney. Volunteers will be asked to file and serve a complaint, follow up with supplemental affidavits and other necessary documents, calendar requisite waiting periods, and ask the court to enter a divorce decree. These matters typically resolve over a four-month time period, and rarely involve a court appearance.
Custody proceedings have a significant impact, for parents and children alike. Volunteers will be asked to interview a client, provide counsel on potential outcomes, negotiate with opposing party/counsel (when possible), and advocate for the client’s wishes at the hearing. Post-hearing, volunteers withdraw their appearance, making these discrete engagements. These matters include client interviewing, negotiation, and advocacy before a judge.
Probate matters help clients to preserve their family homes, build intergenerational family wealth, and contribute to neighborhood and community stability. Volunteers will confirm the family tree, open an estate at the Register of Wills, transfer title to the client, and file an inheritance tax return. These matters are a great fit for volunteers looking for an impactful transactional opportunity they can handle at their own pace.
Estate planning provides clients with the peace of mind, and legal security, that their affairs will be handled consistent with their wishes. VIP is significantly expanding its estate planning work to help more clients protect their family homes and support intergenerational wealth transfer. Volunteers will interview and counsel their clients, create the needed documents (e.g., will, living will, financial power of attorney) using templates from VIP, and ensure proper execution by clients. These matters, which take just a few hours, are a good fit for attorneys interested in practicing legal drafting.
Quiet title matters provide clients with the peace of mind, and legal assurance, that they own the home into which they have poured their time and money. Volunteers will file a complaint that may involve brief legal research, negotiate with the opposing party (should it respond), and proceed with litigation, as necessary. These matters are a great fit for newer attorneys looking to build litigation experience and those looking to learn more about interesting real property concepts.
Guardianship empowers clients to care for their loved ones, equipping them with the legal tools to arrange for needed care, make critical financial decisions, and protect the best interests of an incapacitated person. Volunteers will collect written testimony from a physician, file a petition in Orphans’ Court, serve the petition on the Alleged Incapacitated Person, and present the case at the hearing. These matters are a great fit for those who want to practice drafting and filing pleadings, and attend a low-pressure hearing.
Volunteers are needed to defend against debt collection cases and help preserve low-income clients’ credit. In almost all cases, the creditor is represented by counsel, and some matters involve unfair debt collection practices. In these cases, volunteers begin by negotiating with the creditor. If no agreement is reached, the volunteer represents the client in a Municipal Court hearing, or at arbitration in the Court of Common Pleas. These matters require a relatively short time commitment, and are a great fit for attorneys who want a courtroom matter involving negotiation, without a longer trial.
Name change cases help clients secure an important, but often overlooked, basic need: having an accurate, government-issued photo identification (ID) that matches one’s legal name and/or obtaining a birth certificate documenting one’s legal name. Without these documents, access to a wide range of programs, benefits, and rights is impinged. In these cases, volunteers will draft and file a petition and then present the case at an uncontested hearing. These matters are a great fit for those who want to practice drafting and filing pleadings and attend a low-pressure hearing.
When a client is sued in a slip-and-fall or auto accident case the stakes can be immensely high, with a critical asset, such as a home or driver’s license, being at risk. For low-income Philadelphians without insurance-provided defense, VIP is the only source of free representation. Volunteers will file responsive pleadings, participate in settlement conferences, and represent the client throughout the proceedings. These matters, which typically are scheduled for arbitration, often involve depositions and light discovery. These cases are great experience-builders for newer attorneys who want to develop litigation experience.
Clients seeking a deed transfer are looking to secure legal ownership of their homes — a critical step in ensuring housing stability. Volunteers will interview the client, draft a deed and transfer tax forms using provided templates, and help the current owner properly execute it. These matters are a good fit for those seeking experience with legal drafting and a short-term, but impactful, pro bono opportunity.
Volunteers will be asked to draft a contract, waiver, or warranty for the small business or nonprofit client, and/or review existing documents created by the client.
Volunteers will provide counsel and advice to small business and nonprofit clients on compliance with federal and state regulations, as well as draft or review bylaws for nonprofits and operating agreements for small businesses.
Volunteers will assist small business or nonprofit clients with creating or revising employment policies, and/or advise clients on matters to ensure compliance with federal and state employment laws.
Volunteers typically assist small business and nonprofit clients with preparing and submitting Articles of Incorporation to the State of Pennsylvania, and will also be expected to provide guidance on choice of entity, as needed.
VIP intellectual property matters include copyright, trademark, and patent filings. Volunteers will assist the small business or nonprofit client with completing and submitting the application, and provide counsel if an application is rejected.
Volunteers will assist small business or nonprofit clients with negotiating commercial leases or acquiring property, as well as provide guidance in landlord/tenant disputes.
In these matters, volunteers assist small business or nonprofit clients with filing for tax-exempt status and nunc pro tunc cases, in addition counseling clients on compliance with federal and state tax laws.
Volunteers will be asked to seek zoning variances on behalf of the small business or nonprofit client, or negotiate on behalf of the client with a developer who is seeking a zoning variance.