Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County, Inc. (VLSP) traces its origins to June 1981 when the Monroe County Bar Association received a $20,000 demonstration grant from the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) to develop a project to increase private attorney participation in the delivery of civil legal services to low-income clients. The local bar association was one of only five bar associations nationwide, and the only one in the State of New York, to receive funding from LSC. The LSC grant was matched by contributions from the Foundation of the Monroe County Bar Association, law firms and individual lawyers.
The creation of VLSP was the culmination of a four-year effort by the Monroe County Bar Association to coordinate a pro bono program to supplement the efforts of the two legal service agencies in the community that operate through staff attorneys, Monroe County Legal Assistance Corporation (MCLAC) and the Legal Aid Society of Rochester. The two agencies had never been able to fully meet the needs of the low income community for free legal assistance. The problem was exacerbated by drastic cuts in federal funding in 1981 and 1982, compounded by a recession, giving rise to a situation in which an ever-increasing number of people could not afford private counsel when faced with legal problems. VLSP was created to call upon members of the private bar in Monroe County to meet this growing need.
VLSP began as a one-person operation, and the first attorney/director's primary task was recruiting attorneys for the volunteer panel. By September 1981, 75 attorneys had signed up as volunteers and the project opened its doors to clients.
There has been tremendous growth in the size of the volunteer panel, staffing, budget, and program services in the 30 years of the program's existence. At present, approximately 1,500 volunteers serve on the pro bono panel and the staff needed to administer the volunteer program has grown to three full-time and eight part-time employees. While the program was started with $40,000 in one-time grants, it now operates with a $640,000 annual budget.
In 2005, VLSP moved into the Telesca Center for Justice, where it continues to be co-located with the Legal Aid Society of Rochester, the Monroe County Legal Assistance Center (renamed LAWNY) and the Empire Justice Center, as well as the Monroe County Bar Association. The co-location of Rochester’s civil legal services agencies and the bar association has greatly enhanced VLSP's program by enabling the agency to readily collaborate with other providers and save on capital expenditures.
VLSP has been recognized by the American Bar Association (ABA) and the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) as a leader in the pro bonomovement. VLSP’s volunteer attorneys, supporters and staff have been recipients of national, regional and local awards, including the ABA’s Pro Bono Publico Award, the NYSBA’s President’s Pro Bono Service Award and GRAWA's Family Friendly Award. VLSP’s programs are regularly featured in ABA and NYSBA publications. VLSP's executive director has been a presenter at ABA and NYSBA conferences and provided technical assistance and consultation to other pro bono programs.