Sept. 22, 2011

Media Contacts:

Anita Barksdale
ABA YLD District 25 Representative 
Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P. 
713.651.5442 or abarksdale@fulbright.com 

Kim Davey
Public Information Director
State Bar of Texas
512.427.1713 or kdavey@texasbar.com

FEMA, ABA, State Bar of Texas, Local Bar Associations and Legal Services Providers Team Up to Assist Texans Displaced by Wildfires

AUSTIN – The State Bar of Texas has established a legal hotline – 800.504.7030 – to assist people with basic legal questions following recent devastating wildfires in Texas. A partnership between the State Bar of Texas, Texas Young Lawyers Association, American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (ABA YLD), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Austin Bar Association, the Houston Bar Association, and other local bar associations and legal services providers throughout Texas is making a range of assistance available.

Disaster Hotline
The hotline – answered in English and Spanish by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid – is intended to help low-income fire survivors with such issues as replacing lost documents, insurance questions, landlord-tenant disputes, and consumer protection issues such as avoiding contractor scams in the rebuilding process. 

Residents can call and leave a message any time. Survivors who qualify for assistance will be matched with Texas lawyers who have volunteered to provide free, limited legal help. Survivors should be aware that there are some limitations on disaster legal services. For example, assistance is not available for cases that will produce a fee (i.e., those cases where attorneys are paid part of the settlement by the court). Such cases will be referred to a local lawyer referral service.

Individual Assistance
The current FEMA disaster declaration will also make individual assistance available to residents of the following Texas counties:  Bastrop, Cass, Colorado, Gregg, Grimes, Houston, Leon, Marion, Montgomery, Travis, Walker, Waller and Williamson. To apply for assistance with housing, home repairs and uninsured property losses, residents should contact FEMA at www.fema.gov or the FEMA Disaster Aid Hotline:  800.621.3362.

Local Assistance
The Austin Bar Association has trained more than 80 attorney volunteers to prepare them to assist with the disaster response. The State Bar of Texas has taped the training and is making it available online for other lawyers who wish to help. Attorneys from the State Bar, Austin Bar and Bastrop County Bar Associations have been conducting legal clinics in the hardest-hit areas to provide legal assistance with such issues as:

  1. applying for FEMA aid
  2. replacing lost documents
  3. insurance claims questions
  4. landlord-tenant issues
  5. mortgage/foreclosure problems
  6. home repair contracts and issues with contractors
  7. animal welfare
  8. consumer protection, such as price-gouging

The Houston Bar Association is hosting a legal clinic on October 1, 2011. Volunteer attorneys will be available to meet with residents who have legal questions related to the wildfires at the Saturday clinic sponsored by the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program and the Consumer Law Task Force. The clinic will run from 9 a.m. until noon at Ripley House, 4410 Navigation, Houston, Texas 77011. The HBA's Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program has also set up a disaster hotline and an email where those affected by the fires can email questions. Simply email disaster.assistance@hvlp.org or call 713.225.9455 and leave a message, which will then be answered by a staff attorney or volunteer.

There is also a Disaster Recovery Center in Bastrop that is ready to help survivors get the registration process started and provide information on a range of available disaster assistance programs. The center is located at Bastrop High School 9th Grade Academy, 1602 Hill Street, Bastrop, Texas 78602. The hours of operation are Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m.

Additional resources are available at www.texasbar.com, www.texaslawhelp.org, www.austinbar.org, www.hba.org and www.texasbar.com/lris.

Partnership Members
The State Bar of Texas is an administrative agency of the Supreme Court of Texas. The Bar provides educational programs for the legal profession and the public, administers the minimum continuing legal education program for attorneys, and manages the attorney discipline system.

The American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division is the largest national organization of young lawyers, provides leadership in serving the public and the profession, and promotes excellence and fulfillment in the practice of law. Its parent organization, the ABA, is the national voice of the legal profession and the largest voluntary professional membership group in the world.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency coordinates the federal government's role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and recovering from all domestic disasters whether natural or man-made, including acts of terror. Through an agreement with the ABA, FEMA underwrites the cost of operating toll-free legal assistance lines for survivors in areas designated as federal disaster sites.