Pro Bono News

Celebrate Pro Bono by Helping Those Affected by Disasters

Friday, September 28, 2018

Celebrate Pro Bono by Helping Those Affected by Disasters

"This month, the ABA is celebrating pro bono work with a special focus: disaster resiliency. In 2017, FEMA declared 137 disasters, and millions of people are still in recovery. This year, FEMA has declared nearly 90 disasters. With the Atlantic hurricane season in full swing and Hurricane Florence recently hitting the southeast, disaster legal aid remains a critical need for many.

Low-income families are likely to lack the financial resources to prepare for or respond to a disaster, and are likely to live in areas that are highly susceptible to floods. In light of this, many advocates mobilized to help low-income disaster survivors with FEMA applications, appeals, and other legal issues in the aftermath of the 2017 disasters. Attorneys staffed disaster legal response centers and hotlines. Law students assisted local legal aid and nonprofit groups in disaster areas. Experienced attorneys provided training for those who were new to disaster legal aid. All of these efforts were invaluable, however there is an ongoing need for increased and continued pro bono involvement in disaster legal aid.

For attorneys and law students new to pro bono work, the concept of “disaster law” can be nebulous and overwhelming. The good news is: 1) “disaster law” encompasses multiple practice areas that you are likely already familiar with, 2) there is a robust disaster legal aid community ready to support your work and provide training resources, and 3) pro bono assistance to disaster survivors can be, and often is, limited or brief. Multiple legal issues can be implicated in the aftermath of a disaster. Attorneys and law students can find their niche in disaster legal aid in any of the following areas (and more): insurance disputes, contract disputes/negotiation, consumer debt issues, housing issues, and federal or local assistance applications and appeals.

Often, what disaster survivors need primarily is for someone to help them through the process of obtaining post-disaster government assistance. Survivors often experience enduring trauma, which makes it very difficult for them to tend to bureaucratic matters, not to mention the fact that obtaining government benefits often requires the production of documentation that was likely physically destroyed during the disaster. As a young attorney, you are well-equipped to help these individuals fill out paperwork, answer questions, and find ways to substitute documentation. Your problem-solving skills are invaluable..."

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