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Lawyers Can Help As the Waters Recede, What Lies Ahead? 9/5/17  09/05/17 1:01:06 PM Printer Friendly VersionPrinter Friendly Version

Amateur video in downtown Houston showing a massive fire at the Lone Star Legal Aid building on Fannin was posted on Lone Star’s website.

Lawyers Can Help
As the Waters Recede, What Lies Ahead?

By Lorraine Boyd
The Daily Record

    It must seem like Armageddon to the people of Texas, and Houston in particular.
    Nowhere is that more true than at the Lone Star Legal Aid headquarters. As if it weren’t enough to be surrounded by flood waters in downtown Houston, the offices on Fannin Street suffered an explosion and fire the Monday after Hurricane Harvey made landfall on August 26.
    They reported: “Although we are hit, we are still fighting. We will update everyone when our offices … are open and our system is up and running.”
    Then last Wednesday, they posted this on their website:
    “LSLA is continuing to roll with the punches and is up and running. Our phone systems are still down, but we have been able to use our fax lines [as phone lines] in order for our open offices to continue our mission. You can also visit us at local Houston shelters as we work with volunteer attorneys to help those in need.”
Saundra Brown, the manager of the disaster response unit at Lone Star Legal Aid, spoke with the ABA Journal about her group’s work. Many lawyers with Lone Star Legal Aid are working remotely, while many senior managers are working in Texarkana, she said, since the group’s headquarters in Houston were damaged.
Lawyers will be needed for disaster appeals with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to help people secure temporary housing, to get money for home repairs, and to deal with insurance claims, Brown told the ABA Journal.
Out-of-state lawyers can help with the FEMA appeals, which are administrative in nature, Brown said. Additional help for legal aid and volunteer lawyers responding to disaster is at the National Disaster Legal Aid Resource Center.
“The goal is to get a bank of volunteers,” said Andrew VanSingel, director of the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division Disaster Legal Services Program.
Teams of volunteer lawyers will hold clinics at shelters in Texas as soon as it is safe to do so. Brown said flood victims will want advice on dealing with insurance companies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration. They will also need help dealing with other kinds of legal issues, such as tenant/landlord disputes arising when, for example, a landlord wants to evict a tenant because he needs an apartment for a relative who has been displaced by the floodwaters.
“The need is going to be huge,” said Brown, who had to flee her own house in Southwest Houston, which took on more than five feet of water.
Out-of-state lawyers without practice-area expertise or the time to handle cases may want to consider donating money to groups such as Lone Star Legal Aid, Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid and Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, VanSingel suggested.
For more information on this, you can go to ABA Journal website’s ‘Asked and Answered’ section, where Lee Rawles speaks with Brown and VanSingel.
Legal Information
    These ABA on-demand CLE programs are free for any attorney who wants information to help survivors:
    • Representing Disaster Survivors: Challenges to Survivors AND Lawyers - This program provides background from experienced experts on the most recurring legal issues disaster survivors face including: insurance disputes, FEMA benefits, landlord-tenant disputes, consumer fraud and more.
    • Representing Disaster Survivors II: Practical Litigation Tips on How to Succeed in Court and Administrative Hearings - This program provides information on handling the long-term and complex legal issues that linger after the initial disaster.
    In a report that drove home the terrible effects of the storm, Texas Lawyer wrote: “Also dealing with flooding was Houston plaintiffs lawyer Stephen Liss, who fled his home when water from a bayou entered. Liss told Texas Lawyer he thought he had placed his belongings high enough to keep them safe, but when he returned last Monday, he saw he had not succeeded. The water had reached a high of 46 inches.
    “Everything I own is gone,” Liss said.
How Do You Help?
    If you want to help, there are a number of ways open to Nebraska and Omaha lawyers. The ABA offers ways to make monetary contributions, but many would like to do something more tangible.
    The Texas Supreme Court issued an “Amended Emergency Order After Hurricane Harvey Permitting Out-of-State Lawyers to Practice Texas Law Temporarily.” What does that mean to Nebraska lawyers?
    “We are trying to clarify that right now,” Nebraska State Bar Association Executive Director Liz Neeley said. “We need to determine if that applies only to on-site help, or if lawyers can offer help online. For example, can we volunteer on the Texas Free Legal Answers website? Or do we need to be there?”
Texas Free Legal Answers is “a place for not only legal information, but also a place for Texas-licensed attorneys to volunteer to provide brief advice and assistance. The current income cap is 250 percent, but [we are] looking into lifting the cap for the time being,” according to the ABA.
Neeley said the NSBA will be making an announcement the this week about their recommendations on providing legal assistance. They will also give guidance about how the NSBA’s Solace program may help those impacted in some way by this natural disaster.
Shirley Peng, Nebraska Legal Aid’s Disaster Relief Project Manager, said they are coordinating with the Nebraska State Bar before putting out a call for volunteers “so we put out the same message.”
“We have a network of 150 volunteer attorneys prepared to offer pro-bono advice on civil legal matters.” She noted that there is no hurry, since the legal need will be around for years to come. “Some cases are still open from Katrina.”
She said the Texas Bar currently has 1,150 volunteers signed up – 556 Texas attorneys, 469 out-of-state attorneys, 78 law students and 47 paralegals. “The Texas Legal Access Division is responding to each of the volunteers and is in touch with the Legal Services Corporation to determine where volunteers are needed and to match them up appropriately.”
In the meantime, we recommend you consider a donation to the Houston Food Bank or the Houston Humane Society, she said. You may check out any  organization at www.charitynavigator.org.
The Omaha Bar Association:
Be a Champion!
    The Omaha Bar Association is taking a unique approach to helping hurricane victims.
    Noting that children and babies are “the most vulnerable,” OBA President Anne Marie O’Brien has initiated a giving project aimed at making all OBA members champions.
    She urges you to bring a package of diapers, or a check made out to the Texas Diaper Bank in the amount of $10 (35 diapers), $25 (112 diapers), or $50 (250 diapers) to the OBA’s Fall Kickoff event on September 7. The OBA will collect all the donations and send them to the Texas Diaper Bank in San Antonio, designated for disaster relief.
    Why? Because diapers are not provided by disaster relief agencies. “The Texas Diaper Bank is in need of cash and diaper donations to provide emergency diaper kits to the families that are being displace due to Hurricane Harvey,” their website says. The need is dire.
    “As the mother of five children, I can only imagine the desperate need for these items,” O’Brien said. “They will only get them through donations like this. And it gives us all a chance to be champions to the littlest and most vulnerable of all the victims.”
    So bring your checkbooks to the 47th Annual Fall Kickoff BBQ on Thursday, Sept. 7, at First National Bank, 14010 FNB Parkway, starting at 5:30 p.m. It is open to OBA members and OBA law student members only.

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