FEMA Disaster Relief

Dear Florida Lawyer:

As we approach what likely will be a very active hurricane season, we’ve begun preparations for opening The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division Disaster Legal Services Hotline. After a hurricane hits, many people need simple advice about how to get their life back in order. All of us want to help in the event of a disaster. Here’s how we can help:

Sign up to volunteer to answer the questions of hurricane victims on a pro bono basis. 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. It’s a small service with a huge impact.

Many young lawyers shy away from pro bono work because it’s new or feels uncomfortable and I understand. 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. We became lawyers to help others, and this opportunity is when you are most needed.

Additionally, The Florida Bar will be promoting this volunteer opportunity on all of its social media platforms. Please share those posts and encourage your friends and colleagues to volunteer!

Florida Bar YLD, in conjunction with the ABA Young Lawyers Section and FEMA, has set up the Disaster Relief Hotline. 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. Volunteers should complete the sign up form and review the Disaster Assistance Manual for Legal Services Advocates.

The volunteers assist by returning calls placed to the YLD’s 1-800 hotline or at FEMA centers. To be a volunteer, you simply have to indicate a willingness to serve, and have a basic understanding of common problems experienced by disaster victims.  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.

We understand you may have concerns regarding conflicts of interest in assisting survivors with legal matters related to a federally declared disaster. 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 regarding the adoption of Rule 4-6.6, please see the Florida Bar News article hereIf you decide, however, to take on a case and representation of a disaster survivor, you should run a full conflict-of-interest check at that time. 

Thank you for your time and please encourage other lawyers to volunteer their time as well to help the citizens of Florida who are affected by disasters.

Sincerely,
Adam White
President
The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division