YLD Calls for More Volunteers to Staff Its Hurricane Ian Disaster Legal Services Hotline
Patrick R. Fargason, Senior Editor
The Florida Bar
The Young Lawyers Division has opened its Disaster Legal Services Hotline, and is in need of volunteers to answers legal questions for hurricane victims on a pro-bono basis, in conjunction with the ABA’s Young Lawyers Section and FEMA. “We became lawyers to help others, and this opportunity is when you are most needed,” said YLD President Iris Elijah. Pro bono attorneys will listen to the concerns of victims and discuss the recovery options available through FEMA and other organizations.
With widespread property damage and displacement, Hurricane Ian-affected residents face a bevy of legal questions without a lot of answers.
Now that the storm has passed, the Young Lawyers Division has opened its Disaster Legal Services Hotline, which answers legal questions for hurricane victims on a pro-bono basis, in conjunction with the ABA’s Young Lawyers Section and FEMA.
YLD President Iris Elijah says there is now an urgent need for more volunteers to provide simple advice about how those impacted by the storm can get their lives back in order.
“Right now it’s mainly landlord/tenant issues, but we expected more individuals who will need help with FEMA claims, SNAP benefits [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program], as well as the insurance claims that will be coming in the weeks ahead,” Elijah said.
The hotline allows low-income residents to ask legal questions through a dedicated voicemail system placed on the YLD’s 1-800 hotline or at FEMA centers. The messages are then triaged and sent to an available volunteer lawyer to respond.
The call for volunteer attorneys has never been higher. All Florida Bar members eligible to practice may volunteer to provide basic civil legal services for people who cannot otherwise afford legal representation in non-fee-generating cases.
Elijah said this small service carries a widespread impact on Florida residents during a very vulnerable time in their lives. The division’s volunteer lawyers will guide callers through the recovery process using the Disaster Assistance Manual for Legal Services Advocates, which teaches hotline volunteers what they need to know to better assist victims.
Volunteers should be willing to serve and have a basic understanding of common problems experienced by disaster victims. The legal questions most frequently asked related to hurricane disasters involve landlord/tenant and other housing problems, consumer protection matters, and home repair contracts.
Those willing to volunteer their time and legal experience, visit The Florida Bar YLD’s website for more information and to register.
“We understand you may have concerns regarding conflicts of interest in assisting survivors with legal matters related to a federally declared disaster,” Elijah said. “However, in 2017, The Florida Supreme Court adopted Rule 4-6.6 that alleviates some of these concerns by easing the application of the conflict of interest rules in these situations. For more information on this regarding the adoption of Rule 4-6.6, please see the Florida Bar News article here.”
Pro bono attorneys will listen to the concerns of victims and discuss the recovery options available through FEMA and other organizations.
“We became lawyers to help others, and this opportunity is when you are most needed,” Elijah said.
Florida Free Legal Answers, the virtual legal clinic sponsored by the ABA’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, has also expanded its qualification criteria to help more of Florida’s citizens affected by Ian’s wrath.
The online civil legal service, a cooperative effort of The Florida Bar and the ABA, is designed to answer legal questions for people who cannot afford to pay for an attorney. While those seeking assistance are generally screened by income, the ABA recently approved a temporary increase of the qualifying cap so that more storm-impacted citizens can post their legal questions.
Florida Free Legal Answers deals mainly with questions regarding civil law. However, the ABA and The Florida Bar have created a new “Hurricane Ian” category so that people may ask specific legal questions related to the hurricane.
Attorneys who wish to volunteer their pro bono hours with Florida Free Legal Answers may learn more and register here.
Lawyers may select questions from a variety of civil legal categories and answer anonymously.
The Florida Bar also has an entire web page of resources and tips dedicated to dealing with hurricanes, both for lawyers and the public.