Posted Feb 01, 2011 10:02 pm CST
With a fierce winter storm slamming 20 states this week, hundreds of thousands of lawyers will grapple with how to continue to service their clients without access to their offices. The ABA plans to help the next time a storm or other disaster—natural or manmade—strikes.
The ABA is developing disaster preparedness protocols both for its own use and the use of law firms, courts and other legal organizations. Last week, senior ABA staff gathered in a conference room to run through a mock disaster that forced them out of their Chicago offices—where this week’s storm may dump 2 feet of snow—for weeks.
“We will use the results of this exercise to move forward with a new certification process approved by the Department of Homeland Security. We can’t ignore the unpredictability of life and nature,” said Louisiana lawyer David Bienvenu, who chairs the ABA’s Special Committee on Disaster Response and Preparedness. The association will use lessons learned from its own planning to help other legal organizations plan for disasters.
The legal profession itself needs to be ready to respond to the unexpected, according to ABA President Stephen N. Zack. “As the largest voluntary professional organization, the ABA must lead by example and make decisions now, so that if the president of the United States calls for a suspension of certain laws in times of crisis, we are ready; or if lawyers and clients in one state need the help of lawyers in another, we have a mechanism to help already in place,” Zack said.
After Hurricane Katrina, the Mississippi and Louisiana supreme courts adopted special rules to allow out-of-state lawyers to temporarily provide legal assistance to victims of the disaster.
The ABA has urged other states to do the same, and so far, nine U.S. jurisdictions (Arizona, Delaware, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington) have adopted a version of this model court rule. Twenty more are considering adoption.
A program at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Atlanta at 2 p.m. on Feb. 12 will feature a panel of experts discussing the “Role of Law and the Courts in Public Health Emergency Response.”
A variety of disaster planning resources are available on the ABA’s website.