Often in life, things that we think “go without saying” should in fact be said. So to begin: my best wishes are with those impacted by the recent storms and floods in Texas. This has a been a humbling, and for some a painful, reminder of human fragility. Through relief efforts, may it also serve as an exemplar of our collective strength.
- “The Houston Bar Association has set up a special LegalLine to help area folks affected by the flooding and storms.” [An HBA] statement says that callers can “speak to an attorney knowledgeable in insurance matters, property, landlord/tenant law, contracts, disaster assistance and other consumer issues.”
- “The State Bar of Texas has established a legal hotline…to help people [with] basic legal questions and connect them with local legal aid providers following recent flooding…”
That quote from the State Bar came from a release of their own. But from that release, here’s the language I’m most interested in: “A partnership between the State Bar…, Texas Young Lawyers Association, [ABA] Young Lawyers Division, local bar associations, and legal services providers throughout Texas is making a range of assistance available. Additional resources are available at texasbar.com/floodresponse and texaslawhelp.org.”
Post-disaster legal aid may not demand the immediacy of first-responder efforts (rescuers, medical personnel, etc.), but legal needs surface quickly in a disaster’s wake. Great to see so many actors rapidly mobilized. That’s my first reaction. My second is to wonder about coordination of effort. As a matter of course there will be some overlap. I suppose the goal is to minimize that and allow people to directly steer to the help they need.
I’ve never been part of a disaster relief effort. (And I’ve been fortunate never to have been caught up in a disaster unless you count watching Philadelphia 76ers basketball.) I can barely imagine how difficult it is, in literal chaos and with people’s lives and livelihoods in immediate jeopardy, to roll out a seamless, multi-actor response. So this is not a critique of what’s happening – something I wouldn’t do from 1000 miles away in any case. Rather, I offer my observations (from afar) of who’s doing what, and at the same time I catalog what disaster legal-aid resources exist on a more permanent basis:
- The State Bar’s webpage offers a hotline number and a current catalog of available help to victims. It also refers people to the Texas LawHelp site.
- TexasLawHelp has some of their homepage’s main real estate set up to advertise the Lawyer Referral Service of Central TX’s hotline. LawHelp also has a more permanent “Disaster Recovery and Relief” page linked to its homepage. The disaster subpage has good generalized information, though not flood-specific info.
- The Houston Bar Association’s homepage links to a subpage with a list of flood resources, including the State Bar hotline and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid’s page. Speaking of…
- As for the legal aid providers:
- Texas RioGrande Legal Aid has a hotline and written materials
- Lone Star Legal Aid’s homepage has a hotline and other info, and I learn there that Lone Star administers the State Bar hotline.
- Zooming out to the national level:
- the National Disaster Legal Aid Resource Center homepage, which exists mainly as a resource for lawyers, nonetheless has links to TX victim resources (State Bar, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, and Lone Star Legal Aid).
- I don’t see anything on the ABA’s homepage, nor anything TX flood specific on the Young Lawyers Division Disaster Legal Services Program page. But the ABA is not a “first legal responder” in these circumstances, and they’d be working with/through state actors (whose websites victims are more likely to go to) anyway.
- As for news coverage, aside from the Chronicle article above, I’ve seen “how to access legal aid” stories from Houston’s ABC affiliate and the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (great name!).
Well, that’s a lot of quickly marshaled resources in Texas, and there’s a solid, more permanent array of resources when you add in the Disaster Legal Aid Resource Center, LawHelp, etc..
Putting myself in the place of a flood victim who’s trying to sort through this information – the weblinks, the hotlines, etc., I’d like to see a state map, broken down and clickable by county. So if I lived in Calhoun County (one of Texas’ 11 million counties), I could click on my county and the resulting page would list the specific hotline(s) I should call, as opposed to me going from page to page and trying different links, number, etc.
This assumes that the county lines are also points of division for all the different services providers involved here. That may not be the case. Nonetheless my point is that a map or some other all-encompassing graphic would be a simple, useful starting point for people trying to find resources online.
UPDATE – 6/9/15 – Cathryn Ibarra from the State Bar was kind enough to offer details on the State Bar hotline: “Callers will be directed to the legal aid in their area based on the area code of the phone number they are calling from. So all three LSC providers in Texas are involved, not just Lone Star. TRLA and LANWT both have their own disaster hotlines in addition to receiving the calls routed to them through the State Bar’s hotline.”
And here’s a June 4 TRLA blog post on legal aid efforts.