July 18, 2011 Articles

Service During Disaster as a Form of Professionalism

Recent weather-related disasters in the United States have heightened the importance of humility and assistance in the legal profession.

By Larry D. Smith and Robert V. Goldsmith III

We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
– Winston Churchill

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, attorneys mobilized within days to begin sculpting the American Bar Association (ABA) website into a clearinghouse of information for affected individuals. In The Wake of the Storm: The ABA Response to Hurricane Katrina, A Midyear activity report, ABA, 2006 at 10. The website was up and running by Wednesday, August 31, just three days after the storm. Id. at 11. By the end of November, the ABA Katrina website had received 50,000 visitors and nearly 2,000 offers of assistance. Id. at 12. Over the course of the next year, thousands of attorneys volunteered their services across the southeastern United States. State bar organizations continue to maintain websites created to assist storm victims on a pro bono basis for problems ranging from locating lost loved ones to estate-settlement issues.

The recent rash of tornadoes that swept across the Southeast was deadly and devastating. Between April 25 and April 28, 2011, an estimated 312 tornadoes occurred; 201 are confirmed by survey. April 2011 tornado information, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. To date, the April storms are responsible for 326 fatalities, with a record-setting 309 occurring during the 24-hour period beginning April 27, 2011. Among the most devastating twisters was an estimated F4 that tracked 80 miles through Alabama, from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham, reaching a maximum width of 1.5 miles and causing at least 65 fatalities. Id. When the storms subsided, the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office cited a minimum of 24 killer tornadoes spanning six states. The disaster sparked action in the legal community on a scale not seen since Hurricane Katrina.

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