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Volunteer lawyers needed: young lawyers crank up disaster relief plan.

It won't be long after the victims of Hurricane Charley secure the necessities of life--food, clothing, shelter-that their thoughts will turn to the legal questions as they begin to rebuild their lives and communities.

To provide the answers, The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division is putting into action its disaster legal services plan in coordination with the ABA-YLD and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The Florida Bar and the ABA are assuming the responsibility for coordinating pro bono legal services for the storm's victims.

"As Floridians, we can all relate to what it feels like to be threatened by, or live through, a hurricane and for those of us who have managed to escape Charley now is our opportunity to help," said Mark Arnold, district representative, for ABA-Young Lawyers Division, who is heading up to volunteer effort along with Jennifer Ator, the FEMA liaison for the Bar's YLD, and Mike Faehner, the YLD president.

"Hurricane Charley caused a significant amount of emotional and financial damage to the residents of Florida from Punta Gorda to Daytona Beach, and President Bush has declared many of Florida's counties disaster areas and eligible for federal relief," Arnold said. "Many Floridians have not yet been able to assess the extent of the damage to their lives and they will need our help in the coming weeks."

That's where the volunteer lawyers come in.

The Florida Bar has established a toll free number--(866) 550-2929--for the victims to call in and the Bar now needs attorneys to answer their questions. FEMA officials also will provide that number to storm victims at its disaster recovery centers.

"We have a list of volunteers already but need many more volunteers to help the victims of this disaster," Arnold said, adding that each volunteer will be provided an informational, training packet, full of resources and information to assist the lawyer.

The legal questions victims have usually include one or more of the following: insurance claims; landlord-tenant and other housing problems; home repair contracts; consumer protection matters; mortgage foreclosures; replacement of wills and other important legal documents; drafting powers of attorney; estate administration issues; and the preparation of guardianships and conservatorships.

Arnold said when victims call in on the toll-free line, staff at the Bar will take the call and fill out a two-page intake form describing the type of assistance they need. The Bar staff will then get that information to the volunteer lawyers from across the state.

"All of the legal assistance will be to people who cannot otherwise afford representation," Arnold said.

Lawyers interested in volunteering should e-mail the following information to Austin Newberry, YLD administrator at The Florida Bar, (anewberry@flabar.org): Name, address, county, work phone, fax, work e-mail, area of practice, additional languages spoken. In addition, volunteers also should indicate the legal areas in which they can provide assistance.

"We are very optimistic about the response we have gotten from Florida lawyers so far, basically willing to help out in any shape or form to help the people who have been affected by Hurricane Charley," Faehner said.

Visibility

Chief Judge Hugh Hayes of the 20th Circuit said August 17 that it was not yet time to send lawyers to the FEMA centers, but in the coming weeks he would like to see locations established where Florida lawyers can render free legal advice in person in the affected communities.

"I think it would be fantastic; it would be a great response on the part of The Florida Bar and, more importantly, it would provide a valuable service to those who are not sure where to turn," Chief Judge Hayes said.

Getting Back to Work

Communication, or more accurately the lack of it, is one of the biggest obstacles facing lawyers in the areas impacted by Hurricane Charley, said Jan Jung, executive director of the Sarasota County Bar Association.

"We are unable to reach anybody to tell us anything," Jung said during an August 17 conference call between members of local bars and Florida Bar leaders. "One of our concerns is trying to see if we can't get those local lawyers' offices up and running. That seems imperative.

To assist in that effort, the Bar's Law Office Assistance Service is ready to assist members concerned about rebuilding their practice, replacing lost or damaged files and documents, and obtaining practical help in reconstructing trust and operating account records. (See story, page 6)

LOMAS Director J.R. Phelps said the Bar is concerned not only about the scope of the disaster, but the particular problems lawyers will face in coping with their obligations over the next few months.

LOMAS also has posted on the Bar's Web site information about setting up a disaster preparation, protection, and recovery program for your law firm and other disaster response resources.

Phelps said LOMAS is ready to help and can be reached at (850) 561-5611.

Remembering Andrew

Karen Gievers, who was president of Dade County Bar when Hurricane Andrew struck in 1992, said storms like Charley provide "a great opportunity for attorneys to show leadership in a local community in a positive way."

Gievers said as the recovery continues, communities will begin organizing series of town hall meetings and local bars can help by sending its members to the meeting to provide answers to basic questions.

"Just get the word out to the everyday citizens that they don't need to teach themselves everything that lawyers spent years learning in law school and in their practices," Gievers said. "That was one of the most warmly received efforts that the Dade County Bar did."

And once FEMA establishes its one-stop relief centers, local bars should make sure lawyers are there to provide assistance, too.

"The main thing that we found--and I think it is pretty similar from the human needs standpoint--is having lawyers visible and being there to give advice and to do it free was just a double win."
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Author:Killian, Mark D.
Publication:Florida Bar News
Date:Sep 1, 2004
Words:985
Previous Article:Bar seeks calm after Charley's storm; work underway to get court system back up and running.
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