If you emerged from Hurricane Irma with a few downed trees but no major damage to your home or health, you might be wondering how to make yourself useful helping those who weren’t so fortunate.
Here are a few ways South Florida lawyers can put their skills and knowledge to work over the coming weeks.
Volunteer for a local legal aid organization, such as Dade Legal Aid, Legal Aid Service of Broward County or Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County. Legal Services of Greater Miami serves residents of the Florida Keys, who will likely need extra help because of the storm’s severe impact there.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Tuesday one-quarter of the houses in the Keys were destroyed, and another 65 percent suffered major damage.
Legal Services of Greater Miami Deputy Director Margaret Moores said it’s too early to pinpoint the exact needs of Monroe County residents, as the group can’t yet re-enter the islands. But she anticipates Keys residents will need legal help in landlord/tenant law, consumer protection, contractor fraud, insurance, FEMA and other disaster-related legal assistance, and domestic violence and family law.
The Florida courts website keeps a list of legal aid organizations throughout the state.
Find a case that matches your expertise via the Florida Bar Foundation’s Florida Pro Bono Matters tool.
Answer questions through the online legal clinic Florida Free Legal Answers. The Florida Bar and the American Bar Association decided to raise the income qualifying cap for the site because of the hurricane, and more than 500 attorneys have volunteered so far.
Sign up to respond to FEMA hotline questions. The hotline went live Wednesday, and the young lawyers divisions of the Florida Bar and the ABA are looking for volunteers to assist people with issues such as filing insurance claims, filling out FEMA paperwork, dealing with repair contracts and landlord/tenant issues, and replacing legal documents lost in the storm.
Read the Florida Disaster Assistance Manual. The manual tells attorneys what to know about disaster assistance available under state and federal law and helps guide them in representing low-income hurricane victims. It was prepared by the Florida Bar Foundation and revised by Florida Legal Services.
Take an American Bar Association continuing legal education course on representing disaster survivors. The CLEs, which are free to members, outline the challenges in representing such clients and offer guidance on succeeding in court and administrative hearings.
Donate to the Florida Hurricane Legal Aid Fund. The fund supplements $500,000 set aside by the Florida Bar Foundation last week to help the state’s legal aid groups recover from the storm and assist clients.
Organize a “Phone A Lawyer” event with your local bar organization. The Hillsborough County Bar Association answered legal questions from Tampa Bay residents last week through a partnership with a local Fox affiliate.
Check for other opportunities to help via the National Disaster Legal Aid Resource Center. The organization mobilizes pro bono attorneys across the country after a disaster. The American Bar Association’s Disaster Relief page is another good resource.
Don’t forget those in Texas. People who lost everything in the wake of Hurricane Harvey are still in need of legal assistance. Following a Supreme Court of Texas order temporarily allowing out-of-state lawyers to practice Texas law, the state bar is accepting help via this form.