MAY 2020 | AROUND THE ABA

Young Lawyers’ Disaster Legal Services adds tools to help victims, lawyers

Amid growing legal needs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and other disasters, the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division Disaster Legal Services Program (DLS) has unveiled two new tools to assist relief efforts — a national hotline to connect with those seeking civil legal services, and a national disaster relief pro bono portal for lawyers.

Working with RingCentral Inc., a leading provider of global enterprise cloud communications, collaboration and contact center solutions, DLS is providing a toll-free hotline, 888-743-5749, to connect disaster survivors to legal assistance in every state and U.S. territory as relief efforts are implemented.

“A national hotline adds tremendous value to the work already being done by the Disaster Legal Services Program,” said ABA President Judy Perry Martinez. “A centralized, never-changing number means easy access for survivors and reduced administrative burden for our federal, state and local partners.”

RingCentral’s Contact Center Technology will greet the customer in either English or Spanish, and from there, voice commands will direct the caller to the appropriate state’s DLS hotline.

The hotline is currently routing calls from the recent tornadoes in Tennessee, flooding in Oregon and Mississippi and earthquake in Puerto Rico. In April, the hotline began routing COVID-19 related calls in Texas and Nebraska. Other states are expected to implement similar DLS hotlines for the coronavirus soon.

After natural disasters, DLS brings together volunteer attorneys and the state bar to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and local legal aid offices to provide legal assistance to disaster survivors. Disaster-related legal issues include landlord/tenant problems, insurance claims, FEMA claims and consumer issues such as securing government benefits and contractor fraud.

Since 2007, the Young Lawyers Division has responded to more than 193 declared disasters in 44 states and four U.S. territories.

To launch the first national disaster relief pro bono portal for lawyers, DLS worked with Paladin, a justice tech company specializing in pro bono software. The centralized, sortable database lists opportunities to serve those impacted by COVID-19 and recent disasters.

The portal is free to all attorneys across the country in an effort to effectively deploy America’s lawyers to help individuals in times of emergencies. Lawyers can sign up and view cases at JoinPaladin.

The tool helps volunteer attorneys filter opportunities by practice area, communities to serve, type of engagement and the ability to work remotely. State hotline hosts and legal services organizations will be able to post opportunities to the DLS program’s portal as they come in to increase their volunteer pools. The portal will allow the ABA and Paladin to gather important data around needs, volunteer interests and, ultimately, pro bono connections to help better match volunteers. 

“The COVID-19 public health crisis has made the need for a nationwide Disaster Legal Services pro bono portal more apparent than ever,” said Martinez. “Streamlining our volunteer recruitment and referral process means connecting those in need following a disaster to volunteer attorneys as quickly as possible.”

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