Nassau Suffolk Law Services’ Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP) and the Nassau County Bar Association (NCBA) are pleased to honor Dennis Buchanan as our most recent Pro Bono Attorney of the Month. This month’s award recognizes an attorney who has demonstrated tremendous dedication to the clients he represents in Landlord-Tenant Court through the VLP’s Attorney of the Day Project. Since joining the program in October of 2017, Mr. Buchanan has assisted 177 low-income clients, volunteering more than 286 hours of his time to date. His zealous representation has allowed many tenants to remain in their residences, avoiding eviction and possible homelessness.
The Attorney of the Day Project, supervised by VLP Staff Attorney Roberta Scoll, assists hundreds of indigent and disabled men, women and children in housing court to prevent homelessness. Many of the cases are holdover or nonpayment matters. Most tenants must appear pro se, and are severely disadvantaged by lack of counsel. The courts are overburdened trying to administer justice. Given the lack of affordable housing in this region, eviction may place families at a severe risk of becoming homeless.
This project allows attorneys to volunteer to represent these individuals for a four hour session once a week, a month or as frequently as they choose. The goal is to preserve housing or at least give the tenants sufficient time to secure alternative housing and avoid the trauma of shelter placement or homelessness. Attorneys interested in becoming involved with this and our other vital work should contact Susan Biller at Sbiller@nsls.legal, or Roberta Scoll at RScoll@nsls.legal.
Mr. Buchanan came to the VLP after two successful previous careers. He grew up in Portugal; his father was a US government employee stationed in the Azores. Mr. Buchanan returned to New York to attend SUNY Downstate University and became a nurse. His involvement in labor relations and risk management in that career sparked an interest in law. In 1995 he graduated from St. John’s University School of Law, and was admitted to the New York State Bar and the US District Courts for the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York. Mr. Buchanan enjoyed a twenty-five year career in corporate compliance and human resources at NY Presbyterian Hospital before his retirement.
Always looking for a challenge, Mr. Buchanan decided that his retirement from full-time transactional work was the perfect time to garner experience in the courtroom while helping those less fortunate. He pursued volunteer opportunities through the NCBA, which led him to the VLP Attorney of the Day Project. There he was given training materials, and the opportunity to work under the direct oversight of Roberta Scoll and her team of experienced volunteer Landlord Tenant attorneys.
“The structured environment of the Attorney of the Day Project was an excellent place for me to develop my litigation skills, and I am grateful for the chance to shadow and gain steady feedback from the other volunteers,” states Mr. Buchanan. “Working on a pro bono basis allows me to focus purely on the goal of helping a client get the best deal possible and avoid being put out on the street. It is truly rewarding to roll up my sleeves and deal with the essence of peoples’ basic needs."
As a result of growing up a minority in a different culture, Mr. Buchanan is able to reflect upon what it means to feel marginalized and struggle to make sense of an alien system. He recalls a rewarding case where he represented a tenant being evicted by her stepfather/landlord. The mother of the tenant, who was the wife of the landlord, had died several months prior. The tenant had lived in the house since her mother had purchased it approximately ten years prior. The volunteer attorneys were able to ascertain that a co- owner of the property was the sister of the tenant, and received her assurance not to evict the tenant. They were able to get the case dismissed. Without the VLP’s representation, the tenant may not have been able to successfully navigate the system and likely would have been evicted.
Attorney of the Day Coordinator Roberta Scoll notes, "We are very fortunate to have Dennis as a volunteer. Twice a week Dennis consistently devotes his energies representing tenants through the Volunteer Lawyers Project. He is a tremendous help to the program.
In addition to his work with the VLP, Mr. Buchanan also volunteers with the NCBA Mortgage Foreclosure Project. He enjoys sailing, bicycle riding, travel and spending time with his wife, grown children and young grandchildren. In light of his dedication and commitment to serving low income Nassau County residents, we are proud to honor him as our most recent Pro Bono Attorney of the Month.
The Volunteer Lawyers Project is a joint effort of Nassau Suffolk Law Services and the Nassau County Bar Association, who, for many years, have joined resources toward the goal of providing free legal assistance to Nassau County residents who are dealing with economic hardship. Nassau Suffolk Law Services is a non profit civil legal services agency, receiving federal, state and local funding to provide free legal assistance to Long Islanders, primarily in the areas of benefits advocacy, homelessness prevention (foreclosure and eviction defense), access to health care, and services to special populations such as domestic violence victims, disabled, and adult home residents. The provision of free services is prioritized based on financial need and funding is often inadequate in these areas. Furthermore, there is no funding for the general provision of matrimonial or bankruptcy representation, therefore the demand for pro bono assistance is the greatest in these areas. If you would like to volunteer, please contact Susan Biller, Esq. 516-292-8100, ext. 3136.