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Legal assistance organization rebrands, calls on attorneys to volunteer


The Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County will now be known as JustCause, and in the spirit of its new name its leadership has asked every attorney in Rochester to donate at least one hour of pro bono legal assistance to the organization in 2021.

Executive Director Tina Foster said the name change is a call for action, with a hope that JustCause could reach 2,000 volunteers this year.

“JustCause is a different kind of organization, we want our brand to communicate that to volunteers and clients alike,” Foster said, at a news conference Thursday morning. “Law, yes, community, yes, but there’s more. There’s passion, there’s connection, there’s compassion...this is not a spectator sport. Justice requires action.”

The Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County was founded in 1981 to connect attorneys with low-income clients in need of representation during eviction proceedings, the bankruptcy process, immigration proceedings, and other civil court matters. Over the course of 40 years, about 1,600 attorneys have offered pro bono representation for JustCause, with 500 offering time in the past year.

About 2,000 cases were handled entirely by the organization in the past year, while its attorneys had some involvement in 10,000 cases, according to Foster.

JustCause now asking all Rochester attorneys to donate time to its clients to expand its roster of volunteers. State Sen. Jeremy Cooney, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, and State Supreme Court Justice Craig Doran have all signed the pledge.

“Justice is action work, and we have to remember that at this time in our country, in New York, and right here in Rochester,” Cooney said, adding that the recently enacted state budget included roughly $3.5 million to fund legal assistance programs in upstate New York.

JustCause is based out of the Telesca Center for Justice, and currently holds a staff of about 15 employees. The organization operates on an annual budget of just under $1.4 million.

JustCause has made notable strides forward during the pandemic. In August, the organization partnered with the city and county governments to launch a countywide “right to counsel” program, which ensured tenants facing eviction had access to legal representation in court. For over two years, community advocates and housing activists had repeatedly called for such a program.

The right to counsel initiative was followed by the county injecting $6 million in federal pandemic relief funds into an Eviction Prevention Pilot Initiative.

“Who do you go to when there’s no one else to go to for justice? That’s a word we use frequently, there’s a lot of talk about justice, who do you go to?” Doran said. “The answer to that question is the people who work with, and volunteer for, JustCause.”

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or