Posted Dec 29, 2005 10:58 am CST
The 2005 hurricane season was devastating, with the catastrophic Katrina ranking as one of the deadliest and costliest natural disasters in U.S. history. The ABA promptly responded to this disaster by calling on the nation’s lawyers to assist directly in recovery efforts, to help fellow lawyers get back on their feet and to provide professional assistance to hurricane victims dealing with enormous legal needs in the wake of the storm.
Within five days after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, the ABA opened three 24-hour toll-free telephone numbers, operated by the Young Lawyers Division and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in the areas most affected by Katrina. We launched a Web site, www.abanet.org/katrina, to direct those in need, and those willing to help, to the appropriate resources. The site provides information for civilian and military victims as well as lawyers and law students affected by the hurricane, and also offers opportunities for lawyers to volunteer time, money or office space.
Also within days of the storm, ABA President Michael S. Greco established the Task Force on Hurricane Katrina, chaired by former ABA President N. Lee Cooper of Birmingham, Ala., to coordinate immediate assistance and, equally important, to prepare for the second wave of legal issues that arise after the initial emergency work is completed.
The legal community’s response to the call for help was immediate. In a little more than a month the Web site had drawn 50,000 visitors, with nearly 2,000 joining up to assist in multiple ways, including traveling to the affected areas to help, staffing ABA hotlines and providing office space to lawyers displaced by the hurricane. At the request of the ABA, 18 state supreme courts waived local practice rules to allow lawyers to help hurricane victims. In addition, state and local bars assisted with volunteer training on state-specific issues.
Virtually every ABA entity joined in the effort to provide assistance, offering services reflecting their unique expertise. For example, the Center for Professional Responsibility posted materials on licensing issues affecting lawyers displaced by Hurricane Katrina and on those offering temporary pro bono legal services. The Law Practice Management Section provided links to free disaster-recovery publications. The Litigation Section prepared a general checklist for making claims under property insurance policies, as well as a checklist of additional information that may be required in making a claim under business-interruption coverage.
The Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section created an emergency resource page for lawyers and law students impacted by the hurricane. The Legal Technology Resource Center provided links to resources for technological recovery after a disaster. The Division for Bar Services listed all state and local bar association resources for Katrina relief.
The Law Student Division’s site provided information for Tulane University and Loyola University of New Orleans law students who were unable to attend school in New Orleans during the fall semester. The Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar created a page for law students that the dean of Tulane University Law School used for official communications to the law school community.
Additionally, the ABA joined with other organizations in a nationwide effort to recruit lawyers to perform pro bono legal services for individuals and small businesses affected by the hurricane. The Katrina Legal Aid Resource Center, at www.katrinalegalaid.org, is a coalition of the ABA, the Legal Services Corp., the National Legal Aid & Defender Association and Pro Bono Net that offers legal aid, public defender, pro bono and referral resources to victims and the advocates who are assisting them.
The ABA Task Force on Hurricane Katrina continues to develop a database of nearly 2,000 volunteers, not only for the immediate emergency, but for the many legal needs that victims will face over the coming months. While the initial shock of the hurricane disaster has faded for most Americans, hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents, who are only now beginning to reclaim their lives, face huge challenges that include complex legal problems. Our dedicated volunteers will offer victims the most valuable ABA asset–the professional expertise of our members.
For more information on the ABA’s efforts or on how to volunteer your expertise, visit the association’s Hurricane Katrina Web site at www.abanet.org/katrina.