Legal Communities Prepare for and Recover from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

The U.S. legal system is already hard to navigate and understand, but even more so in the aftermath of a natural disaster. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, and in preparation for Hurricane Irma, the legal community is coming together in different ways to make legal aid more accessible to people in affected areas.

For example, the Texas Supreme Court took steps to increase access to legal help after Hurricane Harvey hit. The court issued an order last week that allows out-of-state lawyers who are licensed and in good standing in another U.S. jurisdiction to practice in Texas for six months to help hurricane victims. They will need to register for temporary practice in Texas when they arrive and the ABA Journal reported that at least 1,600 out-of-state attorneys have registered to do so.

Once in Texas, these volunteer attorneys join local legal aid organizations like Lone Star Legal Aid at shelters housing hurricane victims. The New Yorker reported that Lone Star Legal Aid lost use of their Houston office to a flood-related electrical fire following Harvey, but its attorneys took what resources they could from the office and set up a makeshift stall from which they could field legal questions from victims. Lone Star has also been training volunteer attorneys across the city on topics such as filing FEMA claims.

And as Hurricane Irma nears South Florida, legal practitioners in the area are already preparing for its landfall. One firm, Kenny Nachwalter, said it normally waits until a hurricane warning is issued to close the firm. However, Irma's size and strength has caused it to allow for much more preparation. The firm is staggering schedules this week to give employees time to buy supplies and prepare their homes for the storm, and closing down altogether Friday to allow employees to finish preparations. All Florida courts will close Friday and some county courts as well as law schools and other judicial offices are also closing in the days leading up to Irma's landfall on the U.S. mainland.

Heather Buchanan is a second-year law student at the University of Colorado Law School and contributes to IAALS Online. Please direct inquiries about this post to iaals@du.edu.