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Connecting Justice Communities

National Disaster Legal Aid Efforts – How the Legal Community Can Help Hurricane Survivors 

Posted in Announcements, Disaster Legal Aid, Legal Services, PLI, Resources

Like many of you, Pro Bono Net’s thoughts are with those impacted by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. As advocates for justice, you no doubt share our concerns about the disproportionate and long-term impact disasters often have on low-income and other vulnerable communities, as well as the direct impact these hurricanes have had on nonprofit legal aid programs such as Lone Star Legal Aid.

Legal aid programs help survivors rebuild their lives and navigate the road to recovery, including obtaining disaster benefits, overcoming displacement, replacing wills and vital documents, making insurance claims, combating contractor fraud and scams, safeguarding civil rights and much more. We know from our work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Super-storm Sandy that this will require long-term commitment, and Pro Bono Net is committed to working with our justice community partners to address the needs that will emerge in the months ahead.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Super-storm Sandy, Pro Bono Net joined with others in the community to create a national website – DisasterLegalAid.org – to provide ongoing support for legal aid, pro bono and criminal defender attorneys across the country on legal issues related to all types of disasters, as well as referral information for the public. It is a joint effort of Pro Bono Net, Lone Star Legal Aid, the American Bar Association, the Legal Services Corporation, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association and Texas Legal Services Center.

In the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and in preparation for Maria, Pro Bono Net has been in touch with a number of programs directly impacted. In coordination with Lone Star Legal Aid, we’ve added sections to DisasterLegalAid.org with legal relief information for Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Details about federal benefits and disaster legal help available are still emerging in certain regions and information will continue to be updated as it arrives. We are also working directly with our LawHelp partners in Puerto Rico, AyudaLegalPr.org, to identify and make available Spanish-language disaster legal information for the public.

We are working on several enhancements to our LawHelp Interactive-powered interview that guides individuals through the creation of a FEMA appeal letter. First, Capstone Practice Systems is converting the interview to a mobile-responsive A2J 6.0 version, and a Spanish-language version will follow. We are also working with pro bono attorneys from Weil Gotshal to review the interview and update related FAQs and user guides. While this tool was initially designed for pro se use following Super-storm Sandy, we encourage programs considering standing up appeals-related projects to consider using LHI Connect’s remote document sharing and review capabilities to engage volunteer attorneys in helping individuals prepare their FEMA appeals claims during the short appeal window. Please contact info@probono.net to learn more.

Below are more resources those in the public interest legal community can use to help now, and stay connected as needs evolve:

  • BookmarkDisasterLegalAid.org for emerging developments in regions that have been impacted by Harvey, Irma and Maria. Disaster Legal Aid provides centralized resources nationally to legal aid and pro bono programs on a range of disasters, as well as referral information for the public.
  • Visit  the State Bar of Texas’s Disaster Relief Resources page or the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Project’s Volunteer Portal to learn about ways out of state pro bono attorneys can help those impacted in Texas. The Florida Bar Foundation’s Hurricane Information page has information about how Florida attorneys can lend their expertise to relief efforts.
  • Watch a free Practising Law Institute one-hour briefing for attorneys Aftermath of Hurricane Harvey: Disaster Assistance which took place on September 7th.  PLI’s Amy Taub was joined by Laura Tuggle, Director of Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, and FEMA representatives to discuss federal disaster assistance for disaster survivors. Another 1-hour audio briefing took place on September 18th that will be made available to listen to through PLI’s website in the coming weeks.

If you are in the legal community and able to help in other ways but aren’t sure where to start, feel free to contact us at info@probono.net and we’ll do our best to connect you with the right resources.