Using NYLAG's unique Mobile Legal Help Center, a legal services office and courtroom on wheels, attorneys were able to travel directly into the neighborhoods most impacted by the storm.

Using NYLAG’s unique Mobile Legal Help Center, a legal services office and courtroom on wheels, attorneys were able to travel directly into the neighborhoods most impacted by the storm.

Marking the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, the New York Legal Assistance Group will host a Commemoration and Pro Bono Awards Reception. To be held on Tuesday, October 29, 2013, at the offices of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, the complimentary evening reception will recognize the extraordinary contributions of the New York legal community, which have enabled NYLAG to help more than 7,600 storm victims and counting.

When Superstorm Sandy struck on October 29, 2012, NYLAG’s downtown headquarters were flooded, knocking out communications, and displacing hundreds of staff attorneys, paralegals, administrators, and volunteers. Amazingly, all of NYLAG’s legal service units were back up and running within 48 hours, thanks to the generosity of UJA-Federation of New York and 11 law firms across the city, which provided temporary office space, phones, computers and pro bono support. NYLAG staff worked around the clock to ramp up services, building new capacity to serve disaster victims. Thanks to funding from the Robin Hood Foundation, UJA-Federation, and other donors by the time NYLAG moved home in January, the agency had created a specialized Storm Response Unit with more than two dozen newly hired attorneys and other staff.

“We could have never responded as quickly or as effectively to Sandy without the extraordinary support of the private bar, our generous donors, community and government partners, and the tireless and talented NYLAG staff,” said Yisroel Schulman, NYLAG president and attorney-in charge. “It was New York City at its best.”

NYLAG’s new Storm Response Unit was strengthened by early access to the national community of disaster legal services professionals. Within days of the storm, the agency had reached out to legal services providers in Louisiana and Mississippi who shared their insights and lessons learned post-Katrina. With their help, NYLAG was able to train 100 of its own legal staff and subsequently more than 1,500 pro bono attorneys on the basics of disaster law, using in-depth webinars and training manuals. Recently, NYLAG has been able to “pay it forward” by advising and training legal services groups in Arkansas and Colorado after natural disasters left their communities with similar immediate legal needs.

The attorneys working in NYLAG’s Storm Response Unit initially provided advice to address clients’ immediate crises, such as helping them file for FEMA assistance, document damage for insurance claims, replace lost documents, secure cash grants for basic necessities – and often find a temporary place to live. But, as the months passed the legal needs escalated, requiring extended services and representation for problems that became increasingly widespread, complex and entrenched.

One year later, what is most striking is that so many Sandy victims don’t have just one legal problem but multiple issues that are interconnected and complicated, including: ongoing FEMA appeals and recoupments, insurance denials, landlord/tenant disputes, mortgage and foreclosure issues, and consumer problems such as contractor fraud. Many of these cases are taking several months to complete, with some housing, foreclosure, insurance and other disputes potentially lingering for years before final resolution. With more than 1,600 current open matters for existing clients, new cases continue to emerge – NYLAG is still recording 300 new client intakes per month.

Superstorm Sandy is a stark demonstration of the fact – too often overlooked – that legal assistance is one of the most important needs in the wake of a disaster. Access to free attorneys enables disaster victims to maintain safe, affordable, habitable homes; appeal inadequate government and insurance decisions; and resolve a host of critical housing, consumer law, benefits and other storm-related legal problems.

“As we look back and remember that devastating day, there is much pain and sadness, but also pride in the resilience of our beloved City,” said Schulman. “I am proud and humbled that NYLAG has played a role in helping to repair people’s lives. But there is still much work to be done in the months and years ahead to ensure that no storm victim is forced to navigate the recovery process alone.”

Join NYLAG as we reflect on the past year and honor the firms and individuals who helped our community.
Click here to RSVP for the Sandy One Year Commemoration and Pro Bono Awards Reception on October 29, 2013, from 6:30 – 8:30pm.