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” href=”https://www.law360.com/articles/1485018/#”>Matt Perez Law360 (April 22, 2022, 8:06 p.m. EDT) – Along with the rise in climate-related disasters in recent years has come the need for legal representation for the victims of such tragedies.
In response, Equal Justice Works and the Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association launched the National Disaster Attorney Guidebook in late March, a national overview of how lawyers can help disaster survivors, especially those from low-income households who cannot afford representation.
The guide was co-edited by Stephanie Duke, attorney at Disability Rights Texas, and Linda Anderson Stanley, senior program manager at Equal Justice Works, as well as director of disaster legal services at the Young Lawyers Division of the ABA.
Here, Law360 Pulse talks with Stanley about creating the guide, the motivations behind it, and what it covers.
What prompted you to create this guide?
As climate-related disasters grow stronger, there is truly a greater need for resources and support to help individuals and families navigate the legal challenges that surround disasters. And as you surely know, millions of Americans cannot afford legal assistance when faced with these kinds of life-altering situations and the unpredictability of disasters, so they must deal with these on their own. complex legal situations, and service organizations do not always have the capacity to increase their capacity to meet all these needs after a disaster. So Equal Justice Works of course believes that everyone should have equal access to justice, not just those who can afford to have legal representation. But we really strived to engage lawyers who are passionate about public interest law and provide them with opportunities to make a difference in communities across the country and truly instill a lifelong commitment to a career in public service. .
Thus, this guide not only serves as a tool for our current fellows and new fellows as they come on board, but there are entire host organizations for the pro bono attorneys working alongside them and anyone interested in help disaster survivors. A tool like this can really increase organizational capacity to help disaster survivors with their legal needs and really help maintain institutional knowledge in the next disaster. There really isn’t anything like that on a national level right now. There are a lot of great resources statewide, but we really wanted to make sure there was some kind of central place for people to go and get that overview of the disaster help available. . And of course, we’re also tied to those great statewide assistance programs.
Was much of it encouraging people to engage in voluntary disaster work?
Absolutely. So it was a partnership between Equal Justice Works and the Disaster Legal Services Program of the ABA’s Young Lawyers Division. So we really want to have something that we can put in front of people who say that’s the way to help a disaster survivor. And so we want to be able to have pro bono lawyers who can help the DLS team or with our Equal Justice Works fellows. Or, when new lawyers come on board and disaster strikes, there’s this must-have material they can consult and just jump right into.
Does disaster law affect a wide range of laws?
Disaster law touches just about everything you can think of, so I like to say that you don’t have to be an expert in disaster law to help a disaster survivor. If you think your field of expertise does not come into play during a claim, you are probably wrong and there is probably a place for you. No prior experience is therefore necessary. And we also have this guide, for example, to help you if you want to work on something that’s a little outside of your comfort zone. For example, it tells you how to make a FEMA call, which is a type of administrative, federal law, not something that’s state specific.
What does the guide cover in general?
The guide provides pro bono lawyers and legal aid – and other disaster stakeholders, of course – with an overview of disaster assistance and resources available after a disaster and best practices. So we have an introduction to the major disaster declaration process, the types of federal assistance that become available after a disaster declaration, and the common types of legal issues before, during, and after a disaster.
There is a chapter providing guidance for practitioners navigating FEMA, individual assistance programs, there is information and national resources on housing and housing litigation and preparedness. There’s a chapter on the Small Business Administration’s disaster loan program, a discussion of consumer issues that might arise after a disaster. There is a chapter on equitable access to disaster services if someone is helping people with disabilities. There is a chapter on FEMA recovery, just so everyone is aware that FEMA could potentially come back later and try to take money from your clients. There are also long chapters on immigration and disaster preparedness, the immigration status of victims of crime…this is truly a community that is often left behind in disaster preparedness and recovery resources.
And then we also cover the very important element of working with advocates and community organizations in the event of a disaster, as well as how to engage law students in the aftermath of a disaster. And we also have this section of state-specific legal resources.
Any key takeaways from the guide for you?
I guess I was surprised that there hasn’t been a collective national version of this to date. So I did a lot of research to make sure it didn’t exist, and of course there are other tools and things like the Legal Services Corp disaster task force report. which gives very good guidelines to people on how to prepare for a disaster. But there really isn’t a manual or guide on how to be a disaster lawyer. So I think that was my biggest surprise, but everything else kind of fell into place pretty easily.
–Edited by Marygrace Anderson.
All Access is a series of discussions with leaders in the field of access to justice. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
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