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Just days after a series of tornados ripped through Alabama and several other Southern states, legal organizations are stepping up to help the victims of the storms and their lawyer colleagues. The Alabama State Bar has announced a number of initiatives it hopes to have up and running by mid-week, including a hotline that people can call for pro bono referrals and an online bulletin board where lawyers can ask for or offer assistance such as office furniture or temporary space. The Alabama Association for Justice is already taking requests from affected residents for help filling out insurance claims and matching them with volunteer lawyers. Local bar associations throughout the state are also planning walk-in clinics and other assistance programs. The University of Alabama School of Law plans to open a clinic next week to help people fill out Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) paperwork and answer any legal questions. “It’s a really tough time here,” said Alyce Spruell, an attorney based in Tuscaloosa and the president of the Alabama State Bar. “A lot of our bar members have been out working in soup kitchens or doing debris removal. There’s some law practice going on right now, but not a lot.” Spruell’s home and office were spared from storm damage, though her in-laws were temporarily displaced. Power was not restored to her home until Friday afternoon, and she has been concentrating on organizing the bar’s response since the tornados. By today, the State Bar anticipates it will have a working 1-800 number that residents with legal questions can call to be connected with a lawyer who is part of the bar’s Volunteer Lawyer Program. The bar’s Young Lawyers Program has plans to work with FEMA representatives in their disaster recovery centers. By May 23, the bar plans to have several walk-in clinics set up where residents can come in for help, Spruell said. “We know that people are going to need help one-on-one by then,” she said. “We anticipate there will be a lot of telephone contact with people before we get the clinics up and running.” The State Bar is also planning to get lawyers into many of the smaller communities that were wiped out by the tornados. The Alabama Association for Justice — an organization of trial lawyers — has already received at least 60 calls from people looking for free assistance on insurance claims, said spokesman Taylor Bright. “We’re looking for as many volunteers as we can get,” he said. “The more we get our message out, the more phone calls we’re getting from people who have been affected. A lot of people are calling from motels. They’ve lost everything, and it’s just nice for them to hear a reassuring voice on the other end of the telephone.” Individual firms are getting involved as well. The Montgomery headquarters of Beasely, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles was spared from the tornados, but 100 percent of the firm’s shareholders are participating in the State Bar’s volunteer lawyer program and many are expected to staff the free legal clinics, said managing shareholder Thomas Methvin. The firm has also donated money to the Red Cross to put toward its local disaster relief efforts. None of the firm’s lawyers or staff was killed, though some have suffered property damage, he said. “This is the worst tragedy we’ve ever seen,” said Methvin. “The lawyers are definitely sticking together and helping each other out.” Two employees at Birmingham-based Bradley Arent Boult Cummings lost their homes in the tornado, but remarkably were unharmed, said human resources director Judy Davis. The firm has taken up a financial collection and a clothing drive to help them, she said. The firm donated so many clothes that the excess will be given to local shelters. Firm leaders are currently discussing volunteer opportunities, and plan to get involved in larger recovery efforts as they are put into action. “We’re looking to see if we can hook up with Habitat for Humanity when they come to town to rebuild,” Davis said. “It really looks like a war zone today.”

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