This month Nassau Suffolk Law Services is privileged to honor Jon Michael Probstein, a pro bono attorney who has generously shared his plethora of talents with the community while juggling roles as attorney, father, and professional actor. Of these, he considers being a father to twins Michael and Megan, who turned 10 on January 3, 2012, to be his most important role. Being a positive example to his children is Mr. Probstein’s greatest motivation for doing pro bono work.
His service with Law Services’ Volunteer Lawyers Project, a joint initiative with the Nassau County Bar Association, includes working on matrimonial cases as well as lending a hand with the Attorney of the Day Landlord Tenant Project which is overseen by staff attorney, Roberta Scoll. As part of the Landlord Tenant Project he helps renters by defending evictions thereby preventing homelessness. Ms. Scoll appreciatively notes that he has regularly and faithfully participated in the effort over the past two years. Mr. Probstein explains that the number of hours he devotes to pro bono depends on the type of case. A recent pro bono matrimonial matter that he is handling for a woman in need required additional hours during a good part of his Christmas vacation. However, he was satisfied in knowing that he was doing the right thing.
Mr. Probstein’s pro bono commitment extends even further as he actively participates in the Nassau County Bar’s monthly foreclosure clinic, often accompanied by his two children. At the foreclosure clinic he helps homeowners navigate their way through the foreclosure process to hopefully avoid losing their homes. He is a member of the Bar Association’s Lawyer Assistance Program Committee and has also served with the Nassau County Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Mr. Probstein has been practicing law since 1977. After graduating Cum Laude in Film and Editing from Syracuse University in 1973, he followed his father’s advice and continued to St. John’s University Law School where he was editor of the Law Review and graduated in 1976. Formerly an associate with firms in Manhattan, he opened in his own office in Manhattan and Los Angeles in 1981 and now works out of his office in Levittown where he represents and assists people and businesses in all civil matters. He has been an arbitrator and served as a guest commentator on Court TV and currently is Special Counsel to the firms Mintz & Fraade, P.C. and Probstein, Weiner & Butler in New York and Los Angeles.
After practicing in the fields of corporate law, securities, litigation, and entertainment law, he segued into acting when clients suggested he try out for roles in television commercials. The late actress Shelly Winters told him he could land even more roles if he took acting classes. His initial classes led to his successfully auditioning for The Actors Studio in New York where he learned Method Acting. As an actor, he performs under the name Jon Avner and has performed in roles on the stage, screen and television. (Since he wears eye glasses in court he has never been recognized, as Jon Avner, the actor!) He considers acting to be his true calling (other than being a father), and the qualities of being real, being honest and truthful influence the way he practices law for the better.
While he does not reap monetary gains from his diverse volunteer projects, he is able to appreciate the many rewards they offer. “In a spiritual sense you learn empathy and compassion for other people’s pain and how much smaller your own problems are in comparison. If I am able to help someone who is in need of help or in need of guidance, that is the reward in and of itself.” Through his work he became aware of the extent of unemployment, foreclosures, and family disputes existing in Nassau County and how the poor economy can force or lead others to unfortunate circumstances. He notes that as a suburb we are not exempt from the problems of an urban environment such as crime, violence and civil matters. Mr. Probstein says his most difficult cases involve getting assistance for those who are homeless because they are often gratifying in a bittersweet way. Doing pro bono has impacted his life for the better by allowing him to be involved in his world by helping his neighbors.
To encourage attorneys who might be “on the fence” about deciding to do pro bono work, he suggests they watch the Frank Capra Movie “Meet John Doe” which is about helping your fellow man. He believes all people have a moral obligation to help one another and to get involved with pro bono work, not for the accolades but because it is the right thing to do. “Don’t believe the bad reviews and don’t believe the good ones either. Just do the work.”
We are truly fortunate that attorneys like Jon Michael Probstein are willing to share their gifts with the community in need. For exemplifying the spirit of Pro Bono and serving as a role model for others, it is our privilege to honor Jon Michael Probstein as Pro Bono Attorney of the Month.
Note: The Volunteer Lawyers Project welcomes attorneys who would like to lend a hand, especially in the areas of bankruptcy, matrimonials, family law and guardianships. Please call Maria Dosso. Esq. at 631 232- 2400 x 3369 or 516 292-8299 for more information.