Montgomery, Ala., March 6, 2007 - Volunteer lawyers from the Alabama State Bar's Young Lawyers Section are once again providing free legal information to victims and families in the aftermath of the recent tornado that struck Enterprise, Alabama and surrounding areas.
A Disaster Legal Helpline (1-800-354-6154) has been created to aid the residents of Coffee and Wilcox counties which have been declared a disaster area by federal authorities. State Bar President Fournier J. "Boots" Gale, III, of Birmingham (Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C., Birmingham) said, "Lawyers services are in high demand after a natural disaster. People with damaged homes have questions about their insurance policies. Landlords and tenants want to know their rights when their properties become uninhabitable because of failures in water and gas lines. Alabama lawyers render service and are volunteering to help their neighbors in a time of need."
In a unique partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), members of the Alabama State Bar's Young Lawyers Section will assist the families.
"The purpose of this legal helpline is to provide free legal information and answer disaster-related legal questions, not to provide legal representation. As in the past, when a natural disaster strikes our state, the Alabama State Bar is both willing and ready to assist those in need." said Linda Lund, director of the state bar's Volunteer Lawyers Program.
Anyone needing legal information should call the helpline where attorney volunteers, who can include but are not restricted to young lawyers, screen incoming calls and accept pro bono referrals from the helpline.
According to Lund, residents affected by a disaster appreciate their assistance in clarifying a variety of confusing legal questions, which include assistance with insurance claims, counseling on landlord-tenant and other housing problems, assistance with home repair contracts, consumer protection matters, mortgage foreclosure problems, replacement of wills, and drafting powers of attorney.
Typically, a disaster helpline becomes operational a few days after a major disaster is declared. This gives the disaster victims time to attend to more pressing matters, such as obtaining shelter and food and addressing their immediate losses and needs. After a short time, however, disaster victims begin to recognize that they need legal help in putting their lives back in order.
The helpline number is generally made available from all governmental agencies responding to the disaster.
As calls start coming in, lawyers staffing the helpline simply do what lawyers do best -issue spotting. These volunteers identify the legal issues buried in the scenarios presented by each caller, obtain the caller's contact information, and, if possible, refer the caller to an appropriate agency providing assistance in the wake of the disaster (e.g., shelters, food banks, government claims processing units, etc.).
The 15,500-member Alabama State Bar is dedicated to promoting the professional responsibility, competence and satisfaction of its members; improving the administration of justice, and: increasing public understanding and respect for the law.