The Consumer Justice for the Elderly: Litigation Clinic is part of the St. Vincent de Paul Legal program, Inc. It is an in-house, one-semester civil litigation and advocacy clinic. Under the supervision of two full-time clinical faculty members, our students represent low-income, elderly Queens residents in cases involving:
Deed Theft. Deed theft occurs when a person’s home is essentially taken from them through fraudulent deed transactions, sometimes as part of a foreclosure rescue scam. When the victim is elderly, he or she may have diminished mental capacity. The fraud is perpetrated through forged or fraudulently obtained deeds and powers of attorney. The property is quickly sold or “flipped” to another party, and the victim threatened with eviction or foreclosure. Clinic students work to have title restored to the true owner.
Foreclosure Defense and Predatory Lending. The Consumer Justice for the Elderly: Litigation Clinic is a leader in litigating predatory mortgage lending cases in the Queens courts. We have had several large predatory lending cases in which elderly clients were defrauded by unscrupulous mortgage brokers, and entered into unaffordable mortgage loans, with the false promise that their total debt burden would be lightened or that the house they were purchasing or repairing would be as good as new. Now, many of these clients are facing foreclosure and clinic interns are fighting for our clients to keep their homes. Some of the relief we obtain for clients are loan modifications through the federal government’s Making Home Affordable Program.
Home Improvement Contractor Fraud Cases. Clinic students have filed lawsuits against home improvement contractors who sign contracts with our clients, take their money, but never complete the home repair work or perform defective work. In some of these cases, the contractor assists the client in obtaining a loan on unfavorable terms to finance the work.
Debt Collection. Clinic students counsel clients who are being harassed by debt collectors and occasionally commence lawsuits in federal court under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. When clients have been sued on a consumer debt, we defend them. We also protect clients’ Social Security and other protected income from being seized by judgment creditors.
Other Consumer Matters. We assist clients who have suffered from deceptive business practices in the sale of automobiles, in door-to-door sales, and in the sale of other consumer items.
Clinic students practice law under a student practice order issued by the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department. Working in teams of two or three, they develop the following lawyering skills:
Consumer Justice for the Elderly: Litigation Clinic
St. John’s School of Law, Room 2-26
8000 Utopia Parkway
Queens, NY 11439[email protected]
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The Consumer Justice for the Elderly: Litigation Clinic is a one-semester, four-credit clinic offered in the fall and spring. It is open to students who have completed their first year of law school − two semesters of full-time attendance plus all required first-year courses.
The Clinic is demanding, and students should carefully consider this in light of their other commitments and goals. Students wishing to take the Clinic must possess a high degree of maturity and the willingness and ability to shoulder the substantial responsibilities of a practicing attorney. Given this demand, part-time employment is strongly discouraged for clinic students. It is also discouraged due to the risk that a student’s outside employment, particularly legal employment, will create a conflict of interest for the Clinic and the student.
Clinic students devote a minimum of 14 hours per week to their clinic cases. Office hours must be kept four days a week, Monday through Friday, between 8:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., scheduled in increments of at least two consecutive hours. While students hold most of their office hours at the Law School’s Clinical Office, they might spend some of the time making court appearances (most clinic students go to court one to three times during the semester), conducting library research or doing other clinic work.
In addition to keeping regular office hours, students attend a seminar class on Tuesdays, from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. The seminar covers lawyering skills, such as interviewing, negotiation, and ethical decision-making, as well as some substantive areas of law related to the Clinic’s practice. The seminars are interactive, and discussions often draw upon student experiences in client representation and litigation. Some seminar assignments will include simulation exercises in interviewing and negotiation.
Students receive a letter grade based on their:
At the outset, we do not expect students to know how to accomplish the many lawyering tasks their clinic cases involve. However, we do expect them to demonstrate a willingness to learn, strengthen their skills and work diligently on their cases.
Ann L. Goldweber
Professor of Clinical Education
Director of Clinical Education
Director, Consumer Justice for the Elderly: Litigation Clinic
Gina M. Calabrese
Professor of Clinical Education
Associate Director, Consumer Justice for the Elderly: Litigation Clinic
“As a student in the St. John’s University Consumer Justice for the Elderly: Litigation Clinic, I represented a low-income senior who was facing foreclosure of the home that she had owned for several decades because of the fraudulent actions of unscrupulous mortgage brokers and a bank’s deceptive lending practices. I made several court appearances, negotiated stipulations and drafted and briefed a motion for summary judgment in an effort to rescind the mortgage and keep our client in her home.
The Consumer Justice for the Elderly: Litigation Clinic provided a nurturing environment to practically implement the concepts that I learned in the Clinic seminar and in my other legal classes. I particularly appreciated the Clinic’s hands-on approach to learning. Although the professors were always there to support me and provide guidance when necessary, I was responsible for completing my work thoroughly and professionally. That experience proved invaluable as I went forward in law school and later in my legal career.
Indeed, my experience in the Clinic influenced my decision to become a public interest attorney after graduation. While participating in the Clinic, I became keenly aware of the vital need for legal services for the indigent members of our society.”
“The Consumer Justice for the Elderly: Litigation Clinic affords St. John’s students with an unrivaled law school experience: the opportunity to advocate for real clients under the close supervision of two inspiring mentors, Professors Goldweber and Calabrese. The Clinic's clients are extremely sympathetic – individuals who have worked their entire lives to purchase their homes and save for retirement only to have their assets and livelihood compromised by unscrupulous predatory lending scams, fraud and unaffordable subprime mortgages.
As a Clinic student intern during the Fall 2008 semester and the Clinic Dean’s Fellow from 2009 through 2010, I honed critical lawyering skills, including investigatory fact-finding and fact-analysis, oral advocacy, legal research and negotiation proficiency, all of which will serve me well throughout my career as an attorney. Most importantly, however, I credit the Clinic for providing me with a solid foundation for the development of attorney-client relationships as I worked on a large array of legal issues for the Clinic's clients. Through office meetings with clients and frequent follow-up communication, I cultivated strong bonds with my clients and fostered relationships of trust and confidence with them under the Clinic’s holistic lawyering philosophy.
Working for the Clinic has been the highlight of my legal education as the experience has provided me with the confidence and the tools necessary to become an effective and zealous attorney. What the Consumer Justice for the Elderly: Litigation Clinic offers to students, in addition to litigation, interviewing, counseling, record-keeping, collaboration and time management skills, is the rewarding privilege to serve as a lawyer. I highly recommend all students to consider the unparalleled opportunities available through participation in the Clinic.”