Editor’s Note: During the week of October 23-29, 2022, the American Bar Association and law firms around America in the National Celebration of Pro Bono. Since 2009, the ABA has encouraged attorneys, paralegals, law students, and law firms to call attention to the continuing need for pro bono legal services through events, highlighting pro bono opportunities, and sharing the contributions of pro bono volunteers in their communities. The 2022 Celebration Theme is “Law in Everyday Life.” According to the ABA’s website, this will “focus attention on the ways in which access to legal assistance affects historically excluded and low-income individuals across the country in all aspects of life.”
Fraser Stryker is honored to spotlight some of Nebraska’s charitable organizations providing free or reduced fee legal access to low-income and other marginalized individuals and celebrate the pro bono contributions of our attorneys and law students. We are inspired by the work of these organizations and individuals. We urge Nebraska’s legal professionals and law students to consider volunteering their time and talents through pro bono work.
Today, we highlight the pro bono work of Steve Hogan and Fraser Stryker 2022 Summer Associate, Justin Pritchett for the Tenant Assistance Project, or TAP. Started in April 2020 by the Nebraska Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyers Project, TAP’s goal is to prevent homelessness across the state. According to their website, TAP “…mobilizes pro bono attorneys and law students to provide free legal services to unrepresented low-income tenants who appear for their eviction hearings at the Douglas and Lancaster County Courthouses.”
After attending TAP’s two-day training for law students at Creighton University School of Law on how to produce “eviction defense packets,” Justin Pritchett began volunteering with TAP when he was a 2L law student. “As a 2L, I was anxious and eager to get into real legal work. I changed careers and went back to school specifically to do meaningful work that impacted people’s lives, and TAP was a tremendous opportunity for me to do just that,” said Justin. TAP’s mission struck a chord with Justin, as he recalled his family’s struggle to find housing each time they moved. “Those experiences have given me great sympathy for those facing housing insecurity. Ultimately, ethically speaking, I think it is incumbent upon society to fight homelessness wherever possible.”
Steve’s pro bono efforts with TAP started after attending Volunteer Lawyers Project presentation on the program at Fraser Stryker. He understands how difficult it can be for tenants to stay in their homes because of a lack of understanding. “I am a firm believer that housing is a fundamental human right,” Steve said. “I have seen friends and family members unjustly evicted from their homes and apartments simply because they did not have a firm grasp of their rights under the law.”
Recently, Justin and Steve had the opportunity to partner on a tenant dispute proceeding in the Douglas County Courthouse. With Steve’s supervision, Justin, who is Senior Certified, found a resolution that the client and the landlord could agree upon, keeping the client inside the home.
When asked what advice they would give attorneys considering pro bono work through TAP, Justin said, “Most attorneys I know went to law school to help people. TAP is a great way to help folks on one of their most challenging days. Even if you are not an expert in the Tenant Landlord Act, the best way to learn it is just to jump in and volunteer. The TAP staff attorneys are highly capable, knowledgeable, and available to help while you are volunteering.”
Steve added that volunteering through pro bono provides beneficial experience for law students. “If you have any desire to be a litigator, court room experience is paramount. The TAP provides you with the opportunity to try a case in a day. You receive all the background information you need to effectively represent your client on a limited basis. It teaches you a lot about negotiation and trial practice. Even if you are not interested in litigation, it feels good to use your legal knowledge to help someone in need when they have nowhere else to turn.”
We thank Steve, Justin and the VLP staff and other pro bono volunteers for your contributions to the Tenants Assistance Project!
The Tenant Assistance Project is organized by the Nebraska Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyers Project. Individuals who may need assistance with an eviction hearing at the Douglas or Lancaster County Courthouses should visit https://www.legalaidofnebraska.org/ to find out more about accessing free or reduced fee legal assistance.
Those that are seeking new pro bono opportunities in Douglas or Lancaster Counties can visit TAP’s webpage.