Volunteer Lawyers for Justice, based at Lowenstein Sandler, represents debtors in no-asset Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidations. The firm asked if their pro bono lawyers could represent a consumer despite the firm's representation of the lender in unrelated matters. Not without consent, said unpublished Opinion 17-2012 of the New Jersey Supreme Court's Court's Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics (of which I am a member).
The Supreme Court reversed, saying that there was no significant conflict because the debtors are without assets. There is no significant risk because the debtors are without assets so the debt is uncollectable. - gwc
Because the Court enacted the RPCs in the public interest, the strong policy in favor of pro bono legal services also informs the Court’s decision. Low-income New Jersey residents facing civil legal challenges are often unable to get legal help. In the Chapter 7 bankruptcy context, a technical area not designed for the layperson, the number of self-represented bankruptcy filings has grown in the wake of the recession, and self-represented litigants have been less successful in getting their debts discharged. The Court commends the lawyers in this and other pro bono initiatives who offer their assistance at a time of need and help bridge the justice gap that leaves many low-income residents in New Jersey without legal services.