How Legal Professionals Can Help After Natural Disasters

Communities along the coast, from Texas to Puerto Rico, have had a lot of damage from hurricanes and tropical storms. People who live in these regions may face a long recovery and rebuilding process. There are issues to think about such as personal finance, insurance, real estate, immigration and unemployment; and the applications for government relief can be difficult to navigate. Many of these people can benefit from legal aid, both before and after the event.

How can you provide pro bono legal aid to disaster victims? That depends on your experience dealing with people who have lost almost everything. Volunteering could be a rewarding opportunity to add your legal skills to a worthy cause.

National Disaster Legal Aid

One helpful resource is National Disaster Legal Aid, which is a national clearinghouse of disaster-related legal information for pro bono, legal aid and criminal defense attorneys. Its stated goals read: “To recruit and help mobilize pro bono attorneys in the aftermath of a disaster.”

The National Disaster Legal Aid “Pro Bono Opportunities Guide” features an interactive U.S. map interface with state-by-state information. This project is an effort of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, ProBono.Net and other organizations. National Disaster Legal Aid’s “Resource Center” also hosts a National Disaster Legal Aid Advisory Group. Attorneys giving pro bono or legal services representation on disaster-related cases can come to this group for ideas and advice.

Free CLEs Offer Help on Disaster-Relief Law

Most legal professionals don’t have experience in representing natural disaster victims, which can make it hard to get volunteers. But there are free online seminars available to educate future volunteers and give direction on managing disaster-relief assignments. In many states, these disaster seminars (see below) may also count as a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credit.

  • As described by the ABA, this program “provides background from experienced experts on the most recurring legal issues disaster survivors face.”
  • ABA program description for the second “Disaster Survivors” program says it “provides information on handling the long-term and complex legal issues that linger after the initial disaster.”

Lawline Disaster Relief CLE Courses

The Lawline courses below will be available (without charge) to attorneys and non-attorneys alike throughout 2017. Lawline indicates that these programs are CLE accredited in more than twenty states— including Texas and (recently) Florida.*

*Note on Florida: at the date of publication, Lawline’s online table of state bar associations offering CLE accreditation did not reflect Florida’s approval, which went into effect October 14, 2017. There are more directions on Florida’s accreditation approval process for the Lawline CLEs, please click on the course descriptions above.)

ABA “Disaster Relief” Resources

The ABA’s Standing Committee on Disaster Response and Preparedness gives education and information to lawyers and legal organizations about disasters. Disaster victims can also can gain a lot from an ABA program: Free legal help “hotlines” for survivors of recent disasters. This public service is a partnership between the ABA’s Young Lawyers Division and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which coordinates the U.S. government disaster responses.

For information on volunteering for recent natural disasters, see the “Volunteer Opportunities” section on ABA’s “Disaster Relief” page.

Jurisdictional Concerns

Nota Bene: Be sure to check the local bar association’s eligibility requirements in every jurisdiction where you would seek to volunteer legal aid for disaster victims.

Florida’s ABA website says, only Florida-licensed lawyers can give volunteer legal aid in that state. A Texas court order now lets out-of-state lawyers serve victims of Hurricane Harvey. Be sure you know the local rules before lending a hand!

 

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