It set up a similar fund after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that raised $50,000 for bar groups working on recovery work in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.
"As we move forward with the recovery process, we anticipate that there will be a growing need for assistance with the many legal issues facing individuals, families and businesses in the affected areas," state bar president Seymour James Jr. wrote in a letter to potential donors.
Meanwhile, then New York City Bar has collaborated with Morrison & Foerster to publish a free, 46-page handbook with information about taxes, emergency shelters, assistance for non-citizens, rights and responsibilities of landlords and renters, and other storm-related topics. Some 30,000 copies will be distributed.
Confusion About FEMA
Several lawyers cited misinformation and confusion over FEMA coverage as a top client issue.
Dibble said the problem is twofold: FEMA may not adequately inform storm victims of alternative sources of funds if they're denied assistance, and people's expectations of the relief organization are sometimes too high.
"People don't seem to understand that FEMA is a benefit of last resort," she said.
FEMA provides emergency money for temporary housing and can contribute to coverage for repairs to make a home habitable. But benefits are provided only if insurance won't cover the full amount needed. FEMA rarely covers personal property, though small business loans do.
"We don't duplicate flood insurance coverage," said Ed Conley, a FEMA spokesman. "So if you have insurance, you need to contact them first before we make a determination to see if there's any additional, unmet needs that we may be able to help with."
"We don't make people whole," he added. "Our goal is to make sure you have a safe place to live."
Marcy Wehling, an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps legal fellow with Legal Assistance of Western New York's Rochester office who has been temporarily assigned to Staten Island Legal Services, said some FEMA denials involve former roommates separated because of a damaged apartment.
"Some people have been appealing because their roommate has already [received] the FEMA benefit," she said, and they have to prove the roommate has moved. Wehling said FEMA also has denied benefits to people who live in zones requiring flood insurance, but the property owner didn't have it.