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Disaster Legal Services – Hurricane Michael

Disaster Legal Services

Under the authority of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, 1974, when the President declares a disaster, FEMA, through an agreement with the Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association, provides free legal help for survivors of that disaster working with bar associations like The Florida Bar.   Disaster Legal Services (DLS) provides legal assistance to low-income individuals who, prior to or because of the disaster, are unable to secure legal services adequate to meet their disaster-related needs.  DLS is provided for survivors of declared major disasters only.

Calls to the Disaster Legal Services Hotline

We have the 1-800 number up and running, and callers will reach a message line asking them to leave their name, phone number, city and a brief description of their legal issue as it relates to the disaster declaration.  We have staff members retrieving the messages and completing an intake form.  The caller is then assigned a lawyer who has volunteered to assist with the specific issue.  The volunteer is provided with the caller’s intake form for follow up. 

Responding to Assigned Callers

We ask you to respond to the caller within 48 hours.  Although pro bono legal assistance generally has some protections, we strongly suggest that you to run conflict checks within your firm before providing advice or accepting any representation.  It may be that the initial phone call resolves the matter, or it may be that the caller needs additional assistance.  It is your choice whether to continue to assist the caller and under what terms of representation, or refer them to the local legal aid organization or elsewhere as appropriate. Click here for the Florida Directory of Legal Aid Organizations from The Florida Bar Foundation. Please keep track of the time you spend on disaster legal services for your own pro bono reporting and return the attached closure form at the end of the matter. 

Limits on Disaster Legal Services

You may not accept fees for your time or costs incurred for Disaster Legal Services, which would include fees from the client or opposing party or any other source.  Disaster legal advice is limited to assisting low income clients on cases that will not produce a fee.   If the lawyer agrees to represent the caller in a legal matter, it is to be handled entirely pro bono.  If a case may generate a fee, you may contact the The Florida Bar’s Lawyer Referral Service online or at 1-800-342-8011.   You may not accept referral fees.

References

We have some resources for you and callers that you may be helping on the YLD’s website at http://flayld.org/get-involved/disaster-relief-fema-hotline/. We especially encourage you to take a look at a manual prepared by The Florida Bar Foundation: http://flayld.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Disaster070214Manual.pdf.   Towards the end of this manual, there are several pages of substantive law about landlord-tenant law, affordable housing, insurance claims, homeless children, consumer home repair protections, and mobile home disaster recovery.  This is a great starting place for some of the most common legal issues you may be presented with, and then you should be able to do a quick search for any updated law on your own.  We would encourage young lawyers to use this as an opportunity to learn new law, but if a legal issue becomes too difficult, please work with local legal aid or another more, experienced lawyer willing to help pro bono.

Sincerely, The Florida Bar YLD Disaster Legal Services Team 

If you have any questions regarding this program, please contact Tom Miller, the YLD Program Administrator at 850.561.5621 or by email, tmiller@floridabar.org.