Superstorm Sandy and its devastating affects highlight two important issues for the legal community. First, the value and importance of pro bono for disaster relief and second, the significance strong and responsive policy can play in getting areas affected by disaster back on their feet. In 2007 the ABA adopted policy for a Rule of Law in Times of Major Disaster in response to the devastation caused by the September 11th attacks and Hurricane Katrina. One of the principles from that policy is that “[a]ll those involved in the justice system must work collaboratively to assure the ongoing integrity of the system in times of major disaster.” (Principle 3).
As we highlighted in a previous post discussing pro bono efforts for Gulf hurricane and oil spill victims, low income individuals often have the greatest need for quality legal assistance. Recovery and rebuilding are immensely affected by one’s economic status. Living in poverty affects not only the ability to rebuild but also the amount of support an individual has to rely upon during the recovery process. Law firms, law schools and individual attorneys continue to visit the Gulf Coast to assist in community rebuilding seven years after Hurricane Katrina hit. Without the assistance provided through pro bono service it seems clear that those communities would not have seen the improvement they have thus far.
In that vein it is encouraging to see the outpouring of support for victims of Sandy. These efforts have manifested themselves in many forms. In the wake of Superstorm Sandy New York courts have opened their doors to attorneys from across the country to provide pro bono assistance to local residents affected by the storm. New York’s decision to allow outside attorneys to provide pro bono service is directly in line with the ABA Rule of Law In Times of Major Disaster Principle 3 and highlights exactly how such collaboration can truly assist all individuals receive the services they need.
In addition to policy initiatives to support pro bono assistance, there have also been various training opportunities. Attorneys participated in live training webinars providing information on how to assist with relief efforts. The New Jersey State Bar provided free legal hotlines for New Jersey residents. Law firms and law schools are reaching out, volunteering their time and efforts before states affected have had an opportunity to ask. These efforts illustrate what the hard work pro bono programs, policy advocates and volunteers provide looks like in action. Although Superstorm Sandy has been a terrible tragedy it has provided an opportunity to highlight what the work of a truly collaborative pro bono community means to this country.