Frequently Asked Questions
1. What types of legal issues does VLA handle?
VLA assists low-income artists with their arts-related legal issues. “Artist” includes almost any artistic discipline, including, but not limited to, visual arts, design, dance, theater, film, and music. VLA assists artists with “arts-related legal issues,” meaning legal issues arising as a result of artistic work. For example, intellectual property issues, contracts, application for an artist visa, or incorporation of arts-related businesses and non-profits, among others.
2. What types of legal issues does VLA not handle?
VLA cannot assist artists with criminal matters, domestic relations matters, landlord-tenant matters unrelated to their art, and business advice. Also, VLA is not able to assist on legal issues that do not have any connection to New York, New Jersey or Connecticut.
3. Does VLA work with individuals and organizations?
Yes, VLA works with individuals and with arts-related organizations, including both for-profit and non-profit organizations.
4. Will VLA represent me in long-term issues?
For long-term legal issues, VLA has a network of lawyers, who volunteer their services on a pro bono free basis to represent VLA members. To be eligible for this long-term assistance through VLA, the member must demonstrate financial need and have the legal issue further reviewed in a legal consultation or clinic. VLA Staff Attorneys do not provide ongoing legal representation on any matter.
5. What does pro bono mean?
Pro bono means that volunteer attorneys give legal services free of charge.
6. Is there a fee for VLA services?
Yes. VLA works on a membership structure. Fees vary based on whether you are a member or a nonmember, an individual or an organization. As a non-profit organization, VLA collects these membership fees to cover administrative costs, which enables VLA to serve the arts community.
7. How much are VLA membership fees?
VLA offers an annual membership fee. The membership fees for artists and arts organizations are listed on VLA’s website here. Membership fees for attorneys are listed on VLA’s website here. Institutional Membership fees are listed here. Membership includes unlimited legal consultations on approved matters, placement on our referral list for matters requiring additional assistance, and discounts on our educational classes (you can view upcoming events on our calendar). If you have questions about our fees, please contact us at 212.319.2787.
8. But, your name is Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. What is free or “Volunteer” about your services if there is a membership fee?
VLA has a network of New York attorneys willing to work on VLA member matters pro bono (free) basis. Once the volunteer attorney agrees to represent a VLA member, the volunteer attorney will not charge for his/her time working on the case. However, qualifying members may still be responsible for certain expenses, such as filing fees, mailing and copying expenses, and government administrative fees.
9. What is VLA’s case list?
VLA provides a list of potential legal matters requiring long-term pro bono assistance to its volunteer attorney network. This “case list” is updated regularly.
10. How do I get on VLA’s case list?
Contact VLA, either by filling out a request for legal assistance on our website or by calling the Art Law Line, at 212-319-2787 ext. 1. As part of our intake process, VLA will determine if you qualify for referral to our case list and if your legal issue is appropriate for VLA services. If your legal matter is appropriate for VLA, we will schedule you for a consultation with a VLA attorney. You must have a consultation before we will consider you for referral to our case list. VLA’s intake process can vary depending on the volume of calls we receive to the responsiveness of those seeking legal assistance.
11. How do I know if I qualify for VLA’s case list?
Eligibility for pro bono legal services is based on financial need. To help VLA determine your financial need, please know your taxable income (line 43) on your tax return when you contact VLA.
12. How long does it take to get a consultation and then be placed with a pro bono attorney?
Before you are placed on the case list, you must meet a VLA attorney for a consultation. We can generally schedule these consultations within a week of receiving all information and documentation that we request from you. From the time that you are placed on the case list, it typically takes 8-12 weeks for an attorney to pick up your case, depending on the type of legal issue involved. Disputes usually take longer to place than a contract issue, for instance. Also, pro bono attorneys take on cases as they are able, so sometimes the wait may be shorter or longer, depending on their availability.
13. What kind of information or documentation will I need to provide? When will I need to provide it?
First, to determine whether you qualify for the case list, VLA needs to review your most recent tax returns. If you did not file taxes, we will ask you for an affidavit of income and 12 months of bank statements from your primary checking account. Further bank accounts may be requested if necessary. Aside from financial information, VLA must review all documentation relevant to your legal issue. For example, a contract, email correspondence, letters, or a link to a website. As we learn more about your legal issue, we will be able to ask you for specific materials. VLA will not schedule you for a consultation until you have sent in all the relevant materials.
14. How will I know if a volunteer attorney has taken on my case?
Once a pro bono attorney accepts your case, he/she will contact you directly to schedule an appointment. If no pro bono attorney has taken on your case after 6 months, VLA may close the file.
15. What can I expect from a consultation or clinic?
You can expect the attorney to give general advice about your legal matter. The attorney will assess your legal matter for potential placement on our case list. If the attorney determines that your matter should be referred to our case list, the attorney will explain the referral process to you. Consultations also vary depending on the type of legal issue, and some consultations will be shorter than others.
16. What can I expect from a pro bono attorney?
VLA pro bono attorneys represent clients on the specific matter for which they were referred by VLA. Therefore, the pro bono attorney you are referred to will not necessarily be your long-term attorney for all matters arising in the future.
17. Is there anything I can do to speed up the process?
The more quickly you respond to requests for documentation, and follow up with VLA, the more quickly we will be able to schedule a consultation.
18. What can I do if I don’t qualify for pro bono referral services?
Even if you do not meet our income requirements for case list referral, you may still meet with a VLA attorney either in a consultation or a legal clinic for limited legal advice such as contract reviews. If you require long-term legal representation, you may purchase our attorney referral list, which includes the names and contact information of attorneys who have made their names available for referral through VLA. They do charge attorney fees, but they may be willing to offer discounts.
19. What is a Legal Clinic?
VLA partners with local law firms, who host clinics on a regular basis. Legal clinics are free and available only to members. VLA members may schedule an appointment at a clinic to discuss most of the same types of issues that can be discussed at an in-house consultation. The difference is that the appointment will be with an attorney or attorneys from the hosting law firm, rather than a VLA attorney. Members can attend unlimited clinics with their membership.
20. Can VLA help me with my patent registration?
Yes. If you would like to apply for a patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, you may be able to do so through VLA’s Patent Pro Bono Program. Your invention need not be arts related, but we still must confirm that you income qualify for our pro bono referral service. In order to get started, fill out our online intake form, or call our Art Law Line at 212-319-2787 ext. 1.
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