Hurricane Harvey

Texas attorneys answer the call to help.

By Eric Quitugua

Robert Eckels

Former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, now of counsel to Gray Reed & McGraw in Houston, was on-site at the city’s largest evacuee shelter—the 706,000-square-foot NRG Center.

On August 25, Harvey made landfall in Texas as a Category 4 hurricane, ravaging coastal communities with its near-130 mph winds and dumping trillions of gallons of water into Houston, where catastrophic flooding destroyed homes and businesses and forced thousands to seek relief in shelters around the city. The death toll surpassed 80 by mid-September. First responders and volunteers from across the state and country sprang into action, some forming human chains to rescue people trapped in their cars or apartments and others cruising on boats in search of neighbors and families perched on rooftops.

Hundreds of the state’s attorneys stepped up, as well, providing everything from legal services to supplies. Former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, now of counsel to Gray Reed & McGraw in Houston, was on-site at the city’s largest evacuee shelter—the 706,000-square-foot NRG Center.

“You see in this shelter hope and grace in the face of disaster,” said Eckels, who helped run the shelter. “I meet volunteers not only from Houston and Texas, but from Denver and New York City, South Dakota, Arkansas, California, and Mississippi—from all across America, folks who are grateful for the opportunity to help and folks who are grateful to be getting help.”

The shelter opened its doors August 29, with a capacity to handle 10,000 people. Inside the center: a pharmacy, an area for pets, a play area for children, rows of cots, and huge stacks of diapers and toiletries.

Eckels, who established the Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Management while he was the county judge, worked with former Gov. Rick Perry in 2008 during post-Hurricane Ike recovery, which was built on lessons learned from disaster relief efforts from previous storms—most notably Hurricane Katrina. That cumulative knowledge informed operations at NRG.

“It is a little more complicated to find housing for those who lost their homes as we must find new or temporary housing close to their old homes for jobs, school, church, or other houses of worship and social support networks,” he said.

In northern Houston, state Rep. Jeff Leach, along with friends from Collin County, searched by boat for people who needed help evacuating severely flooded areas. For two days, his crew spanned Spring, Kingwood, and The Woodlands. With the help of local, state, and federal officials, they were able to transport as many as 50 people—including their pets—from their homes to shelters on dry land.

“After spending time in Houston in the immediate aftermath of Harvey assisting with boat evacuation operations and participating in daily coastal briefings from DPS—I can report firsthand that yes, the storm was strong, but the spirit, compassion, and resolve of the people of Texas is even stronger,” Leach said.

Austin attorney Keith Hopkinson, of counsel to Winstead, and his fiancée, Alyssa Pennington, helped victims from the skies above Texas. Local Boy Scouts loaded the lawyer’s single-engine AA-5B Tiger with school supplies, canned goods, toilet paper, hygiene products, and paper towels, and the couple flew about 250 miles east to Beaumont and Port Arthur, where they dropped off supplies at the regional airport. The two then headed west to Rockport to help a local rotary club unload other small planes packed with goods—a combined effort of about five tons.

Just two weeks prior, the eye of Harvey made landfall in the area. “It was very eerie taxiing to the airport terminal past destroyed hangars, planes, and dozens of vehicles,” Hopkinson said. “The runway lights at the Rockport airport were operating but were not visible because each one had sheet metal wrapped around them from the storm.”

There are many more stories like these of hope and help, of people volunteering their time, energy, resources, and talent to help friends and strangers. In fact, as of September 6, 788 Texas attorneys, 1,106 out-of-state lawyers, 110 law students, and 72 paralegals have signed up through the State Bar to provide free legal help to Harvey survivors.

And even as the lawyers of Texas help those in need, there are lawyers who have also been affected by Hurricane Harvey. More than two dozen attorneys contacted the bar for assistance with temporary housing and office space.

Following Harvey, the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program, which provides confidential help for law students, lawyers, and judges who have problems with substance abuse and mental health issues held support group conference calls for people living in flooded areas.

“We know that the incredible stress and trauma that can result in the face of a natural disaster can have a strong and debilitating effect on a person’s practice and personal life,” TLAP Director Bree Buchanan said. “We want our lawyers to be as healthy and productive as possible.” For more information, go to

With an estimated $180 billion in damages across Texas and over five million people affected, full recovery isn’t expected for years.

As the sorting and rebuilding begins, resources are available at the State Bar’s Law Practice Management website,, to provide guidance on everything from retention of client files to closing a practice.

“We continue to pray for those affected by the storm and give thanks to all of the Texans—as well as the thousands of people outside of Texas—who are offering substantive relief, help, and aid,” Leach said. “We are confident that, in due time, Houston will be even stronger than it was before.”

If you would like to share your Harvey experience, please send us your story at TBJ

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