“We are all just one disaster away from needing the services we provide” – Jai Collier, Directing Attorney – Hurricane Harvey Disaster Pro Bono Program
National Volunteer Week, organized annually by Points of Light, is an opportunity to celebrate the impact of volunteer service and the power of volunteers when they come together to tackle challenges being faced in our communities. This National Volunteer Week, Lone Star Legal Aid would like to extend its gratitude to the legal heroes and the leadership within their organizations that inspired with their selfless service.
Texans required heroes when Hurricane Harvey dumped record-breaking rainfall on the coastal communities of Port Arkansas and Port O’Connor, Houston, and the surrounding areas as well as Beaumont and Port Arthur; heroes certainly showed up. Federal forces rescued 10,000 people who were trapped in their homes or on flooded highways. Neighbors began combing their communities in personal boats and rafts to transport people from damaged homes, and ferry food and prescription medication to those waiting for the water to subside. Volunteer organizations mucked and gutted homes for the elderly and disabled for weeks on end. And in the midst of it all, pro bono attorneys arrived.
LSLA has been responding to major disasters across its 72 county service area for many years. From plant explosions to windstorms, and floods; Lone Star Legal Aid helps Texas’ most vulnerable communities preserve their rights and recover from catastrophic events. Because the numbers of individuals and households affected by Harvey was so unprecedented, LSLA could not do it alone. The State Bar of Texas and the Texas Access to Justice Foundation immediately stepped in and sent out a State-wide call for Attorney Volunteers to partner with LSLA. Response from the legal community was overwhelming and the Hurricane Harvey Disaster Pro Bono Program was born.
Attorneys from all over the state and country signed up to help. Within days of the storm, local attorneys from law firms both large and small were signing up to staff advice -tables at shelters, resource fairs, and Disaster Recovery Centers. Within weeks, attorneys from across the State and country had traveled to Houston, and along with the LSLA legal team, sought out neighborhoods that had become silos without access to shelters or assistance.
As the recovery process began to ramp up, the reports of a huge wave of FEMA denials and remaining unmet needs were staggering. The clients now needed full extensive representation to navigate the federal FEMA appeals process. Once again, the attorney volunteers did not hesitate to step up to the task. Led by the president-elect, Brenna DeVaney of Skadden Arps LLP, and member Ellyn Josef of Vinson and Elkins LLP, the Association of Pro Bono Counsel (APBCO) teamed up with LSLA to provide a nationwide network of attorneys to take on FEMA Appeals.
Although they were instrumental in responding to the growing number of FEMA denials, the APBCO member firms were not the only organizations to go to bat for Houston’s poverty community.
Below is a list of organizations whose attorneys accepted Hurricane FEMA Appeal cases in volume through our Disaster Pro Bono Program:
- Pepperdine Law Disaster Relief Clinic Led by Professor Jeffery Baker
- Hunton & Williams LLP
- Akerman LLP
- Anadarko Petroleum Corporation – In-House Counsel
- Baker Botts LLP
- The Chau Law Firm
- Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP
- Cooley LLP
- Exxon Mobil Corporation– In-House Counsel
- Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton
- Latham & Watkins LLP
- Lowenstein Sandler LLP
- Mayer Brown LLP
- Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr LLP
Additionally, many individual attorneys accepted cases or volunteered to assist with legal representation and advice. Because many of the attorneys taking on multiple appeals were located outside of the Houston area, LSLA also utilized students from local law schools to help facilitate home visits and transfer of documents. These students were invaluable to the success of the program for clients in isolated in rural areas. Ultimately, the entire legal community came together with impeccable synergy and commitment. Translators, law students, attorneys, and paralegals all came forward to ensure we were able to reach as many disaster victims as possible.
Lone Star Legal Aid is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit law firm focused on advocacy on behalf of low-income and underserved populations. Lone Star Legal Aid serves the millions of people at 125% of federal poverty guidelines that reside in 72 counties in the eastern and Gulf Coast regions of Texas, and also 4 counties of southwest Arkansas. Lone Star Legal Aid focuses its resources on maintaining, enhancing, and protecting income and economic stability; preserving housing; improving outcomes for children; establishing and sustaining family safety and stability, health and well‐being; and assisting populations with special vulnerabilities, such as those who have disabilities, or who are elderly, homeless, or have limited English language skills. To learn more about Lone Star Legal Aid, visit our website at www.lonestarlegal.org.
Media contact: Clarissa Ayala