Why A Post-Disaster Rule For Pro Bono Aid Isn't For Everyone (LA)

Why A Post-Disaster Rule For Pro Bono Aid Isn't For Everyone

"When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, legal aid provider Southeast Louisiana Legal Services knew that people in its community would need its help with everything from disputes with landlords to appeals of insurance claim decisions.

But there was one big problem: The organization's entire staff had just been displaced by the storm.

In order to deal with the unprecedented legal aid crisis caused by the hurricane, Louisiana adopted a measure that has since been dubbed the Katrina Rule, which modified state rules regulating attorneys to temporarily allow out-of-state attorneys to provide pro bono services to people affected by the disaster, so long as they worked through an established nonprofit.

Since 2005, 19 states and territories have adopted some version of the rule, which has been endorsed by the American Bar Association. In September, a report from the Legal Services Corp. on how legal aid organizations should prepare for disasters recommended that states and courts consider adopting the rule, which has taken the form of ad hoc orders or more formal programs.

However, not everyone is sold on the rule, or its usefulness. Despite its own history of hurricanes, Florida outright rejected the rule in 2012, with the state’s Supreme Court saying it had concerns about how it would be implemented, though it did not elaborate.

“I do think it’s helpful,” said Jeanne Ortiz, a disaster response fellow with Pro Bono Net, but she added that legal aid providers need to think about how the rule should be used in order for out-of-state volunteers to be effective.

Laura Tuggle, the current director of SLLS who also worked for the organization after Katrina, said having pro bono assistance from outside Louisiana made a big difference for the organization.

In the aftermath of the storm, she said, the entirety of her organization was displaced for at least six weeks. Some staffers were out for up to six months. About a third of the pre-hurricane staff members never returned. Trying to address the needs of the group's clients was therefore a struggle.

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  • Disasters
  • Pro Bono/Legal Services