VLP Office Closure

After careful consideration, we at VLP have decided to close our physical office and call center locations from Monday, March 16- Friday, March 27. At that time, we will reassess opening our offices. 
 
We will continue to operate remotely during these next two weeks. We are set up to continue running our call center remotely, as well as work with our clients, pro bono attorneys, and community partners. You can still reach out to us with all of your needs as you normally would. The only change is that you will need to leave a message in all cases, even for the call center. All staff will have access to emails and voicemails so that we can respond to anyone who reaches out. So if you call and reach a voicemail, don’t worry! We will still respond to everyone. Just please be sure to leave your name and number so we know how to contact you.
 
If you direct a client to call us, please let them know that they will need to leave a voicemail. Our staff will return their call as soon as possible. We have re-recorded our call center voicemail to reflect this change. We are also in the process of creating an online intake, and we will update you all as soon as it has launched.
 
If you had any client meetings scheduled at our office that have not been canceled by our receptionist yet, please contact our receptionist at receptionist@vlpnet.org or 617-423-0648.
 
If you have questions about volunteering during this time, please reach out to me at mblack@vlpnet.org.
 
Thank you for your understanding as we all learn to manage in these unprecedented times.

VLP Clinic Closures

We here at VLP have been monitoring the coronavirus outbreak closely, always with you in mind. Our primary concern is, and always will be, keeping our staff and volunteers safe while still being present for our clients, who, in many cases, ardently need our help.
 
With all of this in mind, we have decided to close VLP’s legal clinics beginning next Monday, March 16th. The clinics will be closed for the rest of March, and we will reassess the situation closer to April. At that time, we will provide an update to all of you.
 
This was not an easy decision to make. We know our volunteers look forward to their pro bono work, and our clients deserve access to justice. It does break our hearts to not be at the clinics, but we must think about everyone’s health and safety.
 
For volunteers, if you still wish to help clients in other ways, please reach out me at mblack@vlpnet.org.
 
For clients, please call our call center at 617-603-1700 for legal help. The call center is open Monday-Friday from 9am-12pm.
 
We appreciate all of you. Thank you for your understanding. Stay safe and healthy.

Victim of Wage Theft Finds Help and Support

Sonia, a nursing assistant, found herself in an unlawful situation and did not know where to turn. She worked long hours filled with the harsh physical and emotional demands of caring for the ill. She tended to the health and wellness of countless patients, provided a steady hand for those finding their strength after an injury, and acted as a calming presence for those facing a challenging diagnosis. 

 

She did this for more than a year without a single vacation day because her employer would not allow her or her coworkers to use their earned vacation time. Her employer also refused to pay Sonia and her coworkers for their unused vacation time, meaning they were being cheated out of money they rightfully earned.

 

What Sonia’s employer was doing was illegal, but Sonia and her coworkers were without recourse because they could not afford an attorney.

 

That’s when VLP stepped in.

 

VLP provided Sonia with a pro bono attorney who sent a demand letter to her employer for the unpaid vacation time. Through diligent advocacy, her VLP attorney negotiated a settlement in Sonia’s favor. What’s more, her employer has amended its practices to be compliant with the law. Now all of Sonia’s coworkers are allowed to use their hard-earned vacation time! 

 

VLP—along with its community of volunteers and supporters—is helping local Boston-area residents like Sonia every day. Thank you for your support.

 

VLP Helps a Father and Victim of Predatory Debt Settlement Find Peace

When he came to the Civil Session of our Fair Debt Collection Lawyer for the Day program, our client felt scared. “I didn’t know what was going on. I never been in trouble in my life. I was in the military. I was actually scared for the first time in my adult life.” 

 

The client had been brought to BMC Central after a judgment was entered against him in Fall River for debt collection. Now the creditor was filing an action with his employer so that they could garnish his wages to collect on the $9,000 debt.  

But when the client spoke with VLP Staff Attorney Tallulah Knopp, he was confused. He said he was working with a debt settlement company to help pay off his credit. “They called me and said we have a great deal for you. We can reduce the rates. We can reduce the bills. I just had to pay $528 a month…They were supposed to help me settle all the credit debt I owed.” 

 

Unfortunately, these predatory debt settlement practices are all too common. Attorney Knopp researched the company, and after reading through their contract and ledger with the client, she found some issues. The company promised the client that they would negotiate a settlement with the original creditor. However, they knew they would be unable to do so because the creditor refuses to negotiate with debt settlement companies like this one. Despite already knowing this, they continued to charge the client over $500 per month to settle the case. As if that wasn’t enough, they gave the client the impression that they would represent him if the case went to court, which they didn’t. 

 

Attorney Knopp recognized these actions as unfair and deceptive. After multiple attempts by the client and VLP to contact the settlement company, Attorney Knopp wrote them a 93A Demand Letter, outlining exactly how their practices violated the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act. She explained how the company’s actions damaged the client’s credit, forced him to take time off from work for court dates, and created significant emotional stress, among other things. The client reflected on how this debt impacted him and his family: 

“I never really owed anybody anything in my life, and once these guys took my money, I had 16 creditors calling me saying that they weren’t getting anything from me…I try not to let anything bother me when I’m with my kids and wife, but it was hard. I had trouble sleeping. It was always on my mind. I just wanted it to stop.” 

In her letter, Attorney Knopp argued that the settlement company’s deceptive actions caused significant harm to the client and warranted a reasonable settlement.  

 

After receiving Attorney Knopp’s thorough demand letter and settlement offer, the company was persuaded to return all $2,376.25 to the client, plus $1,000 in attorney’s fees to VLP. Even better, from that deal, Attorney Knopp was able to negotiate a settlement with the original creditor where the client would pay them a lump sum of about $2,000. In exchange, the original creditor would drop the rest of $9,000 judgment against him. When Attorney Knopp told the client, he was thrilled. 

“She informed me that they would send me a check and I was so happy. I was relieved because then I had the money to pay [the original creditor]… It’s been a rough 2 years – I had an injury at work. I couldn’t do some of the things I used to. With the $2,000 I could pay off my debt and I had some money left over for groceries.” 

 

Thanks to Attorney Knopp’s diligence, this client was able to reach a fair settlement in his debt collection case and regain some peace of mind.  

VLP Board Members Receives FBI Award

In May, Deeqo Jibril, a board Member at the Volunteer Lawyers Project, was honored as a recipient of the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award . This award, presented by the FBI Director, recognizes community leaders for their impact in working with law enforcement to prevent local crime and build trust.
 
Born in Somalia, Ms. Jibril fled her home in 1991 during the country’s Civil War and came to Boston when she was 12 years old. As a Somali refugee in the United States, Deeqo often felt her culture was misrepresented, so she made it her mission to change these misconceptions. In 2014, Ms. Jibril founded the Somali Community and Cultural Association to help Somali families integrate with American society while maintaining their culture and values. Around the same time, she began working with the Boston Police Department and the FBI to build relations between law enforcement and Somalis in Greater Boston.
 
“In Somalia there’s no trust in government…one of the reasons I started getting involved was because some of our youth are struggling with an identity crisis. They are ending up in the (criminal) system and I wanted to educate them in public safety and the role of law enforcement. It takes a village to raise a child, so I wanted to advocate for those lost youth — to give them a second chance.”
 
We are incredibly proud of the meaningful work Ms. Jibril is leading to empower the Somali Community in Greater Boston through civic engagement!

Volunteer Attorney Recognized for Her Impact

Attorney Nicole Bluefort is a valued volunteer at VLP, having worked on multiple family law cases with us. She was recently interviewed by ThriveGlobal for their series on Strong Female Leaders. Attorney Bluefort worked for the first African American to be appointed to the Massachusetts Appeals Court, Justice Frederick Brown. Her knowledge and drive have led to her appearing on networks such as CNN, ESPN, and FOX. She has earned numerous awards, including Mass Lawyers Weekly Top Women of Law 2018, the National Bar Association’s Top 40 Under 40, and the 2019 Business Woman of the Year Award, among many other distinguished honors.

Attorney Bluefort has shown strength, determination, and incredible compassion with our clients, and we know she carries those same qualities with her in every aspect of her life. To learn more about her story and hear the advice she has for female leaders everywhere, be sure to read her interview with ThriveGlobal here. We feel honored to count Attorney Nicole Bluefort as one of volunteers and supporters.