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SPOTLIGHT: New Jersey Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts


There are many lawyers (former artists or art lovers) interested in giving back to the community by working pro bono with artists. Many states nationwide have centralized portals or nonprofit organizations that offer trainings and consultations by bringing lawyers and artists together. Center for Art Law recently sat down for an interview with the Executive Director of the New Jersey Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (the “NJVLA”), Joey Novick.

Novick is one of twelve attorneys on NJVLA’s Board of Directors. He is an entertainment law attorney licensed in New Jersey and trained in mediation. Prior to receiving his law degree from Seton Hall, Novick served as an elected Councilman in Flemington, NJ. Besides practicing law, Novick also works as a professional actor and a stand-up comedian. Furthermore, he is the founder of “Improv for Lawyers,” and conducts workshops that teach legal skills through the use of improvisation.

According to Novick, today, New Jersey artists and arts organizations have a growing need for accessible attorneys and legal education. NJVLA is a not-for profit organization located in Flemington, New Jersey that provides referrals for free legal education, representation, and other legal services to low-income artists, performers, and nonprofit arts or cultural organizations. Specifically, NJVLA helps those in New Jersey that are involved in any creative or cultural endeavors, including musicians, visual artists, dancers, actors, choreographers, filmmakers, writers, and poets, as well as any organization dedicated to facilitating or promoting culture or the arts. Since NJVLA’s inception in 2005, pro bono attorneys volunteering their services have provided nearly 5,000 hours of their time, valued at more than $1.25 million, directly to the members of the New Jersey Arts Community.

NJVLA receives funding via grants awarded by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts (the “State Council”), the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and the IOLTA Fund of the Bar of New Jersey.  The State Council,  a state agency that operates as a division within the Department of the State, for the purpose of encouraging and giving financial support to artists, arts organizations, and other art projects throughout the State. In 2013, the State Council granted NJVLA $25,334 of its $16 million grants budget.

With the grants and donations received, NJVLA is able to offer “Legal Line,” a telephone legal consultation service with an attorney to discuss arts-related legal issues. Through “Legal Line,” a volunteer attorney will speak with a referred-client once, usually for 30-60 minutes. If the client requires further assistance, he/she should contact NJVLA and begin the process again. In addition to the one-time consultations, NJVLA offers Full Service representations for matters that cannot be resolved with a single telephone call.  Clients are responsible only for any associated costs such as court fees. Full Service representation, in general, is available to nonprofit organizations with an annual budget of $750,000 or less or individual artists who, if single, have an annual gross income of $30,000 or less or, if married or cohabiting, have a combined annual gross income of $50,000 or less, with a $2,000 credit per dependent regardless of family makeup. NJVLA offers testimonials of its services on its website:

Attorneys interested in volunteering for NJVLA, according to Novick, must be licensed to practice in New Jersey and be willing to put in the time. NJVLA prefers attorneys that focus on Entertainment/Intellectual Property law, but all are welcomed to apply and the amount of attorney volunteers, as well as practice backgrounds accepted, depends on NJVLA’s needs. Additionally, NJVLA accepts law student volunteers interested in an internship opportunity.

Novick’s advice to students wishing to break into entertainment law is to build legal skills and strive to “be the Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan of the field.” He believes that “knowing your stuff and having a prior background in the business, gives you a leg up.” During the interview, Novick stressed the importance of networking and maintaining contacts within the industry as well as staying informed of current legal issues in the field, such as, the rise in utilization of social media that has created an increase in concern for an artist’s rights.

In 2014, NJVLA plans to hold more informative workshops and panel discussions. Some of the topics to be addressed include updates on copyright protection, fair use, and what steps nonprofits should take when applying for bank loan credit. NJVLA’s next panel is called “Everything Your Arts Organization Needs to Know to Start a 501c3.”

Sources: New Jersey Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts

*About the Author

Lesley Sotolongo, is a third year law student at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. She may be reached at