Essex County Legal Aid Association

Montclair, NJ   |  www.eclaanj.org

Mission

ECLAA provides free emergency legal advice to low-income residents of Essex County, New Jersey.  We serve more than 1,300 clients and their families each year. The overwhelming majority of our clients (89% in 2016) needed help with housing matters -- typically when facing imminent eviction proceedings in Landlord-Tenant court. We also provide free emergency legal help on family- and credit-related matters. Our clients have often arrived at the courthouse without having had access to any legal advice -- much less legal representation. Our office is in the Essex Vicinage courthouse complex -- at 465 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard (Room 118), so we can often get emergency referrals from judges and the Essex Vicinage court staff, etc. Regardless of how a low-income client learns about ECLAA, our staff gives immediate legal advice, and prepares paperwork so a client can proceed pro se. ECLAA is pilot testing -- and seeking funder support for -- providing free legal representation to tenants who our legal staff believes are at risk and are incapable of representing their own interests in Landlord-Tenant court on a pro se basis.

Ruling year info

1941

Fundraising/Development Director

Robert M. Adler

Executive Director

Yvette Gibbons

Main address

41 Watchung Plaza #233

Montclair, NJ 07042 USA

Show more contact info

EIN

22-1487177

NTEE code info

Legal Services (I80)

Other Housing Support Services (L80)

Civil Rights, Advocacy for Specific Groups (R20)

IRS filing requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

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Programs and results

What we aim to solve

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

There are more than 40,000 Landlord-Tenant matters in Essex County each year. The vast majority involve eviction proceedings vs. low-income tenants. Since these are civil matters, there is no public funding for low-income residents of Newark and other county municipalities, as there is in criminal proceedings. Therefore, tenants do not get government-funded free access to the civil justice system. ECLAA has been around since 1906. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit legal services organization (FEIN 22-1487177). Our work is funded entirely by donations - from foundations, companies, law firms and generous individuals who believe that poverty should not be an impenetrable barrier to the civil justice system.

Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

ECLAA's core operations

Making sure that low-income residents of Essex County who need free emergency legal advice with civil law crises get that help -- related to housing (largely landlord-tenant eviction matters), as well as consumer matters (including bankruptcy/debtor relief), family matters, and other miscellaneous civil law crises (employment, health, income maintenance, etc.).

Population(s) Served

Where we work

Goals & Strategy

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn about the organization's key goals, strategies, capabilities, and progress.

Charting impact

Four powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

We hope to increase the number of tenants we can help for free (and we helped more than 1,000 in 2017) with brief legal services and/or preparation to proceed pro se -- armed with documents and advice from ECLAA attorneys. Why? Because current funding only allows our attorneys to help about 2.5% (1,00/40,000) of all tenants in Essex County being summoned to appear in Landlord-Tenant court each year. And while some other nonprofits attempt to help tenants, their combined volume of tenancy work is dwarfed by ours.

So, there is a great unmet need for such legal services, so our board is working with two staffers to reach out to corporate legal departments and corporate foundations for whom ECLAA's small footprint (one county) and tight focus (free emergency legal help for income-eligible residents of that one county) might resonate with their philanthropic interests.

Another unmet need is representation of such low-income tenants in court. ECLAA began to go to court with clients we believe were most at-risk and were not capable of proceeding pro se. We are reaching out to law firms and to corporate legal departments about pro bono opportunities they might be seeking for their legal staff, and our goal by year-end 2018 is to have at least a dozen prepared volunteer attorneys willing and able to represent poor people in Landlord-Tenant court. This would supplement the representation work our own staff began in 4Q2017 and continues to develop and improve in 2018.

So, by year-end 2018 with appropriate funding, the Essex County Legal Aid Association will strive to achieve these goals:

1. Help more than 1,200 tenants prepare to represent themselves successfully pro se in Landlord-Tenant court,

2. Represent at least 100 tenants in L-T court who are most at-risk.

3. With the assistance of one or two New Jersey law firms that want to focus their pro bono resources on relevant matters, take steps to "level the playing field" long-term in terms of judicial policy, procedures and precedents -- in an effort to reduce the total number of tenants getting such summonses to appear in court related to eviction proceedings.

4. Engage at least a dozen attorneys from law firms and corporate legal departments in either preparing tenants to proceed pro so and/or in providing legal representation for those tenants.

5. Get at least an additional $75,000 in funding this year with much of that recurring commitments if possible, by building strong relationships with benefactors who share our goal of assuring that poverty is not an impenetrable barrier to the civil justice system here in Essex County NJ.

See what we are aiming to do above. Please feel free to contact ECLAA's Fundraising/Development director Robert Adler at [email protected] or at 908-672-0738 with further questions or suggestions.

We employee staff with both a passion for and a great deal of experience in civil law matters that most often affect poor people. With some new trustees and relevant departures from our board, we now have a board committed to seeking and getting funds from new people and new organizations with the capability and willingness to support ECLAA. We are honored that two recently retired judges in Essex County have joined our board, including the jude who managed Landlord-Tenant court in the Essex Vicinage when he retired.

We have been doing this kind of work for more than a century.

The double whammy of the 2008 financial crisis and the long-term drop in interest rates hurt legal services organizations badly -- because funding from IOLTA (interest on lawyer trust accounts) plummeted, and many foundations retrenched and took on no new applications for support as they tried to assure that they could meet their current philanthropic obligations. The latter factor has improved a bit over the past 10 years, but IOLTA funding plummeted from $110,700 in 2009 to $37,500 in 2018. ECLAA has met that challenge of dramatically reduced funding from long-term core givers by reaching out to the local legal community, to more foundations, to corporate legal departments, etc. We also have had to pare back our office hours.

We know how to survive in tough times, and we believe that we are leaner and better positioned now to emerge fully from survival mode to reasserting our role in the ever-worsening tenancy crisis facing more and more of our low-income Essex County neighbors.

We believe that we should target two kinds of potential new/broader supporters who want to partner with ECLAA in tackling this local and sadly perpetual crisis here in Essex County:

1. Corporate legal departments HQed in Essex County and other NY/NJ metro area localities who are (a) concerned about helping their company achieve its corporate social responsibility goals, (b) willing to both make the case for corporate and corporate foundation support of ECLAA's mission, and (c) ready to learn how to provide direct pro bono services to tenant clients in need.

2. Essex County area law firms concerned about assuring that their top new and experienced attorneys get courtroom experience that broadens their skills and provides a sense of greater community service to their work.

3. Build alliances with other nonprofit and with government allies who serve poor Essex County tenants in other-than-legal ways, since an eviction typically creates crises in the continuity of schooling for kids in that family, in healthcare, food uncertainty, etc.

Tens of thousands of Essex County tenants need free emergency legal help related to their imminent (or past) eviction hearing. The vast majority get no such help. Please help us to better serve more low-income tenants.

We are working with our board, staff and current supporters to set meaningful, measurable, stretch yet achievable metrics for the six metrics described above.

Each member of the board has taken on at least three corporations and at least two affluent individuals for whom that board member will take the lead role in seeking financial (and if relevant, pro bono) support.

Please feel free to contact ECLAA's Fundraising/Development director Robert Adler at [email protected] or at 908-672-0738 with further questions or suggestions.

Financials

Essex County Legal Aid Association
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Operations

The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.

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Essex County Legal Aid Association

Board of directors
as of 4/4/2018
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board chair

Robert Rich

Attorney at Law (sole practitioner)

Term: 2017 - 2018

Robert Rich

Attorney at Law (sole practitioner)

Steven Fleissig

Greenberg Traurig, LLP

Michael Thompson

Epstein Becker Green

James Rothschild

Riker Danzig Scherer Hyland & Perretti LLP

Ned Rosenberg

Trenk DiPasquale

Claire Keyles

Retired (from Pfizer)