How you can help
Disaster Relief Hotline seeks volunteers
The Young Lawyers Division, working in conjunction with the ABA Young Lawyers Section, is calling for volunteers to staff The Florida Bar’s Disaster Relief Hotline in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.
YLD President Christian George said hundreds are sure to call the hotline seeking legal advice after the Category 4 storm made landfall in North Florida.
Volunteers provide basic legal services for low-income individuals in non-fee generating cases. The most pressing need is for volunteers to return calls.
“Most need only simple advice,” George said. “All of us want to help.”
To sign up to volunteer to answer the questions of disaster survivors on a pro bono basis, visit https://yldbog.formstack.com/forms/2018_disaster_legal_services_volunteer and complete the form. The Disaster Assistance Manual for Legal Services Advocates explains what you need to know to assist victims.
“At this vulnerable time in their lives, your guidance is needed to assist in navigating recovery options available through FEMA and other organizations,” George said. “It’s a small service with a huge impact.”
George said many young lawyers shy away from pro bono work because it’s new or feels uncomfortable.
“But, once you have helped someone who truly appreciates you, your advice, and your willingness to care, you will be forever changed by the experience,” he said. “We became lawyers to help others, and this opportunity is when you are most needed.”
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. The Florida Good Samaritan Act and the Federal Volunteer Protection Act provide protection for the volunteers who offer assistance, George said.
Volunteers assist by returning calls placed to the YLD’s 1-800 hotline or at FEMA centers. The legal assistance provided will be to people who cannot otherwise afford representation and counts as pro bono hours for reporting purposes. The types of legal questions most frequently asked as related to hurricane disasters involve landlord/tenant and other housing problems, consumer protection matters, and home repair contracts.
Additional information can be found on The Florida Bar YLD’s website. The Florida Bar is also promoting this volunteer opportunity on all of its social media platforms.
“Please share those posts and encourage your friends and colleagues to volunteer,” George said.
Other ways for members to help is through Florida Free Legal Answers. Although attorneys are strongly cautioned against engaging in the solicitation of hurricane victims (which is prohibited by Rule 4-7.18), the Florida Free Legal Answers program offers a relatively easy way to lend your expertise. A new category has been created for Floridians impacted by Hurricane Michael to post their legal questions. Visit https://florida.freelegalanswers.org to sign up or log in to your account and subscribe to the “Hurricane Michael” category. By subscribing to the “Hurricane Michael” category you will receive an email alert once a question is posted. The Bar requested, and the ABA has approved, a temporary increase of the qualifying cap so that Floridians can access the site and post questions relating to Hurricane Michael.
Florida Pro Bono Matters is another way to assist Floridians via an interactive website funded by The Florida Bar Foundation — both in hurricane recovery and year-round. You can view descriptions of available pro bono opportunities and indicate an interest in any of them; you then will be contacted by the posting organization with more information.