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The City Bar Justice Center’s Response to Superstorm Sandy

by CBJC Staff November 20, 2013

The Justice Center’s work is to mobilize the legal community to respond to unmet legal needs. As exemplified by the pro bono programs it developed following 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti, the Justice Center has a history of training and mobilizing pro bono volunteer attorneys to meet those needs when disasters strike. When Superstorm Sandy hit, the Justice Center immediately launched a response and created its newest project, the Disaster Assistance Project.

The City Bar Justice Center thanks all of the members of the New York legal community who volunteered in Sandy’s aftermath to provide pro bono legal assistance to storm victims. The following is a summary of the Justice Center’s involvement in recruiting, training and coordinating the work of Sandy volunteers for the past year:

  • Trained over 450 attorneys to provide legal assistance to disaster victims.
    • Trained 250 lawyers to provide legal assistance to individuals and families affected by Sandy.
    • Trained 125 attorneys to assist small businesses affected by Sandy.
    • Trained 100+ lawyers in FEMA and insurance appeals.
    • All training materials and videos are available online at www.ProBono.net/NY
  • Provided direct legal services in affected areas
    • Coordinated and staffed 25 weekly legal clinics in the in affected areas, providing walk-in clients with brief legal advice.
    • Partnered with the Federal Reserve Bank of NY to hold three additional legal clinics.
    • Continue to intake cases referred by other legal services organizations; and recently successfully represented a client at a hearing before the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs at which the contractor was ordered to repay the client 100% of the money paid for shoddy and incomplete work.
    • Assisted over 600 people with the help of 85 trained pro bono attorneys from 39 different law firms and corporate legal departments. (Other trained pro bono attorneys volunteered with other legal services organizations.)
    • Matched 37 cases with pro bono attorneys for full representation on issues involving FEMA and insurance denials or underpayments, and more recently, contractor disputes.
    • Expanded the Legal Hotline’s hours to full-time to handle storm-related phone calls.
  • Provided help to small businesses
    • Organized 15 legal clinics specifically for small business owners affected by Sandy.
    • Provided 133 small business owners with brief advice.
    • Matched 25 small business owners with pro bono attorneys for full representation on issues involving denials by their commercial insurers, landlord tenant disputes and applications for loans or grants for affected businesses.
  • Increased access to justice
    • Recognized the need for early intervention of legal services into the City’s disaster recovery efforts.
    • Successfully negotiated access for pro bono legal teams at the NYC Restoration Centers (single-stop venues for storm victims seeking assistance from various federal, state and city agencies).
    • Recruited and organized teams of legal service providers and pro bono attorneys to handle that service delivery at each site at least one day a week.
  • Helped create a national FEMA appeal template
    • Was instrumental in drafting a pro se FEMA appeal template, now a nationwide standard template for a FEMA appeal, to simplify the process of appealing FEMA denials.
    • ProBono.Net turned this template into an online interactive tool that walks individuals through the required steps to generate a completed FEMA appeal letter at the end. It can be found at www.femaappeals.org.
  • Increased the knowledge and collaborative efforts of the legal services community around issues affecting Sandy victims
    • Developed a series of Roundtable discussions in 2013 to bring the legal community and experts in the field together to discuss and learn about arising issues in an informal setting.
    • Hosted and moderated five Roundtables, to date, on the following issues:
      • Homeowner’s insurance, with a presentation by an expert New York insurance law practitioner, who also presented on the topic of insurance broker liability, a topic that was unfamiliar to many members of the legal community.
      • Federal flood insurance, with a presentation by a representative from FEMA who explained the complexities of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
      • The response by regulatory agencies to insurance disputes, with representatives from both the Attorney General’s Office and the state Department of Financial Services on hand to explain their respective offices’ efforts to help consumers who are dealing with complaints against insurance companies.
      • Home improvement contractor disputes and fraud, with a representative from the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs to explain the role of the Department of Consumer Affairs in handling complaints.
      • Proof of loss forms that must be completed by homeowners who are filing claims under the National Flood Insurance Program, with a presentation by an expert in this field who detailed the complications of completing what should be a simple form.
    • Created a Home Improvement Contractor Handbook, a valuable resource that will be available to homeowners who have issues with home improvement contractors and pro bono attorneys assisting homeowners with contractor disputes.

Low income Sandy victims with ongoing unmet legal needs can call our Legal Hotline at 212-626-7383.

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