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ABA creates task force to help Americans cope with pandemic

March 16, 2020

In response to the growing legal needs of ordinary Americans arising from the coronavirus pandemic, the American Bar Association has created a nationwide task force of volunteer lawyers and judges from across the legal profession.

The new ABA task force includes experts in disaster response, health law, insurance and the legal needs of families to protect basic human needs.

The new ABA task force includes experts in disaster response, health law, insurance and the legal needs of families to protect basic human needs.

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The Task Force on Legal Needs Arising Out of the 2020 Pandemic includes representatives from top legal organizations in the United States. The group will identify legal needs arising from the pandemic, make recommendations to address those needs and help mobilize volunteer lawyers and legal professionals for people who need help.

The task force is chaired by James J. Sandman, former president of the Legal Services Corporation, the nation’s largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans. Sandman is also former managing partner of Arnold & Porter LLP and past president of the District of Columbia Bar Association.

“As the pandemic spreads, thousands of Americans will need help – not just with medical issues but also with legal issues, including lost jobs, evictions, insurance claims, family emergencies and obtaining government benefits they need to survive,” ABA President Judy Perry Martinez said. “Those who come before our criminal justice system will face additional challenges as jobs are lost, the inability to pay fines and fees escalates and we face a greater risk of detentions. In times of crisis, lawyers help. With this task force, we will start by looking for where the need is greatest and where we can make the biggest difference for people in dire situations.”

The task force includes experts in disaster response; health law; insurance; legal needs of families to protect basic human needs such as food, shelter, medical and employment benefits; criminal justice; domestic violence; civil rights and social justice. The group includes representatives from:

  • The Conference of Chief Justices
  • The National Center for State Courts
  • The National Association of Bar Executives
  • The National Conference of Bar Presidents
  • The National Conference of Bar Foundations
  • The Legal Services Corporation
  • The National Legal Aid & Defender Association
  • The Association of Pro Bono Counsel
  • Sections and committees within the ABA

The task force continues a decades-long tradition of lawyers and judges volunteering their expertise to address emergencies across the nation. For example, the Disaster Legal Services Program of the ABA Young Lawyers Division has helped victims of more than 178 declared disasters in 44 states and four U.S. territories since 2007. It, too, will be a part of the task force.

“The ABA literally sets the standard for volunteer legal service in the United States,” Martinez said. “The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct recommend that every lawyer provide at least 50 hours a year of free service to people who are unable to pay. It is the highest calling of the legal profession, and with this pandemic, we are proud to offer our services again to our communities in need.”

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