Last week, millions of people on the East Coast were thrown into a state of disarray by Hurricane Sandy. Despite the destruction created by the storm, there were many inspiring stories of strangers helping each other. From individuals setting up charging stations for their neighbors without power, to restaurants providing free food to victims, the days following Hurricane Sandy have been filled with random acts of kindness.
Naturally, times of crisis prompt many of us to take action to help those in need and lawyers are no exception. Attorneys in the tri-state area have been quick to respond to the legal needs of those affected by Hurricane Sandy. The president of the New York State Bar Association, Seymour James, noted, “New York attorneys have a history of coming together to provide legal assistance to disaster victims. They got together last year after the floods from Hurricane Irene and in 2001 after the World Trade Center attacks.”
Many innovative pro bono initiatives to assist post-storm relief efforts are already up and running. Here are just a few examples:
- The New York State Bar Association is coordinating volunteer attorneys to help eligible victims with insurance claims and federal aid applications.
- On Long Island, the Touro Law School is opening a Storm Help Center to assist eligible local residents and small businesses in completing application forms for available emergency assistance. They will also provide legal consultations and advice on storm-related legal issues to their community.
- The New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) has mobilized a legal aid disaster relief program to help eligible victims of Hurricane Sandy handle FEMA claims, housing issues, and consumer matters, among other issues, and provide training to pro bono lawyers.
Law firms are joining these organizations to provide pro bono assistance. Lawyers and staff from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP*† have volunteered their services through NYLAG and both the New York State and New York City Bar Associations. Currently, some of their attorneys are helping NYLAG clients file claims for FEMA assistance and benefits, while others are helping the New York State Bar Association manage the lawyer referral hotline that was created to serve storm victims. Other firms, such as Mayer Brown LLP*†, McDermott Will & Emery*†, O’Melveny & Myers LLP*, Patton Boggs*†, and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP*†, are all providing resources and pro bono assistance, including donating office space to displaced legal services organizations.
Hurricane Sandy underscores the need for pro bono assistance in the aftermath of natural disasters. There is always pro bono work to be done during such difficult times, and lawyers have already proven that they are capable of rising to the challenge. Following the severe destruction of Hurricane Katrina, lawyers worked tirelessly to develop legal resources for the thousands displaced by the storm. When Haiti was rocked by a massive earthquake in 2010, lawyers provided a variety of pro bono assistance, including traveling to the country to conduct fact-finding missions with regard to the security and violence problems that occurred after the earthquake.
The legal community is collaborating and working together to apply pro bono best practices and lessons learned from prior disasters to mobilize effectively and better serve those most in need.
Is your firm or legal department currently participating in any pro bono projects related to Hurricane Sandy? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment below and tell us about it.
* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project