Puerto Rico and other areas affected by last year’s hurricanes have been in the news prominently in recent months, but what happens when the media spotlight fades? After the cameras are gone, the physical damages remain and rebuilding is an arduous process. Pro Bono Net recognizes the importance of providing access to legal assistance in the wake of natural disasters and works with partners across the country to build innovative solutions to the short and long-term legal needs arising from these events, which disproportionately impact low income and vulnerable communities.

These needs range from housing instability, job loss, loss of important personal documents, as well as issues applying for FEMA aid or being denied by FEMA, that severely complicate the recovery process. As the Louisiana justice community’s experience with Hurricane Katrina demonstrated, it can take up to ten years (sometimes longer) to resolve the range of legal issues that many survivors face after a disaster.

Continue Reading Update on Disaster Legal Response Efforts in Puerto Rico

In honor of National Volunteer Week we will be highlighting volunteers and sharing ways lawyers and advocates can get involved. Today we would like to highlight the work of the Pro Bono FEMA Appeals Clinics which were initiated in response to the 2017 hurricane season.

Probono.net/ny is the New York state network site of probono.net and strives to mobilize and support the volunteer legal community.  Probono.net/ny includes the NYC Pro Bono Center (hosted with the Legal Aid Society and the City Bar Justice Center), and a number of different practice area specific sites, including in family law/domestic violence, community development, housing and foreclosure. The information on our site is made possible by the contributions and collaborations we make with our network of legal service providers in the NY community.

The following highlight was originally published HERE.

Pro Bono FEMA Appeals Clinics for the 2017 hurricane season kicked off on December 11 at the New York City Bar Association with three pro bono attorneys and three clients with support from the City Bar Justice Center. The clinics are made possible by the collaborative efforts of the City Bar, the Association of Pro Bono Counsel, and members of the new Task Force on Disaster Relief launched by New York’s Chief Judge Janet DiFiore. As City Bar President John Kiernan described in his statement on disaster relief,

“Veterans of providing disaster legal services knew from the outset that given the scale of the hurricanes’ effects, the need for assistance from volunteer lawyers would certainly ripen and crystallize once the immediate humanitarian crisis advanced to the next recovery stage.”

Indeed, FEMA reported receiving over 4.5 million benefits applications from storm victims, and the call for pro bono lawyers became clear when FEMA began issuing denials in mid-November.

At the clinic, one of the clients had been evacuated from Puerto Rico. Living in a shelter, the client was denied FEMA assistance because the client had not applied first for a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan. The pro bono team called FEMA on a cell phone and engaged in advocacy, filed an online SBA loan application which was immediately rejected, and called FEMA back to pursue his application for relief. Luckily, FEMA’s phone line is open until 10 p.m.

The second client was a mom with two special needs children who is in the midst of a divorce. She is housed and the kids are in school but missing many items from the hurricane. FEMA granted approximately two thousand dollars to repair her home but she needs to appeal, and will return to the clinic next month.

Attorneys were able to help a third client at the clinic – a Superstorm Sandy victim who is still undergoing home repairs. He noticed the FEMA Appeals sign and walked over from the City Bar’s Monday Night Law clinic. This instance of a Sandy homeowner in need of free legal counsel illustrates how years later, New Yorkers are still dealing with home repairs from Sandy and the Build it Back Program.

Please visit the City Bar Justice Center calendar to learn how to volunteer and make the holidays a little brighter for hurricane victims in New York. Pro bono legal help makes an extraordinary difference for families in crises.


In honor of National Volunteer Week 2018, April 15-21, Pro Bono Net would like to extend our gratitude to the thousands of volunteer lawyers who make a huge difference for those in need.  For those at risk of losing their homes, income and even their children, volunteer lawyers are an indispensable resource. Now more than ever it is important for us to support our most vulnerable communities. This wouldn’t be possible without the immense efforts of volunteer lawyers around the country and the organizations that facilitate volunteering.