Superstorm Sandy in October 2012 marked the most significant natural disaster in living memory in the northeast with a direct hit to Long Island—home to 3 million people in Nassau and Suffolk Counties—and Touro Law Center. Immediately following the storm, Touro Law launched a significant community service and pro bono outreach effort—providing free legal assistance and referrals to anyone in need in the wake of Sandy. That effort grew to become the only comprehensive disaster law program of its kind in the country. We added a disaster law course to our curriculum and opened a Disaster Relief Clinic, where students work under close faculty supervision with clients. In addition, we have been organizing service trips to the area for law students from around the country who want to come to the region and offer pro bono assistance. As the legal needs for many continue, Touro Law is strategically placed to continue to help as the country’s only law school with a campus adjacent to both the state and federal courthouses where the lawsuits are playing out.
Three days after the storm, faculty, staff, students, and alumni gathered in our auditorium to brainstorm about what we could do to help our devastated community. We also invited the ABA Young Lawyers Division District Representative who is the local liaison with FEMA, the leadership of the Suffolk and Nassau County Bar Associations, and other local NGO leaders. What emerged from that initial meeting of about 80 volunteers was remarkable. It was agreed that we would immediately organize and coordinate with local legal services providers to establish a pro bono legal services effort. That same week, on Friday, we held a press conference to announce our intention to serve as a point of coordination and referral with partners including the New York State Bar Association, the Suffolk County Bar Association, and many others. We announced a phone number and e-mail address where the public could access help beginning the following week. That week we organized our list of student volunteers, developed intake sheets, set up a web address and Facebook page where information could be posted for the public, and we developed a training program for students, faculty, staff, and alumni who volunteered to staff the “HEART Line.”
Exactly one week after the storm, Touro Law was the first legal services organization in the region to mobilize and launch a pro bono effort to help people and small businesses affected by the storm. The phone/e-mail referral and assistance center opened, which we called TLC HEART (Touro Law Center Hurricane Emergency Assistance Response Team).