Jeffrey R. Baker (Pepperdine), Christine E Cerniglia (Stetson), Davida Finger (Loyola-New Orleans), Luz E. Herrera (Texas A&M) & JoNel Newman (Miami), In Times of Chaos: A Law School Response Blueprint Post-Natural Disaster:
In 2017 and 2018, an onslaught of domestic natural disasters created acute, critical needs for legal services for people displaced and harmed by storms and fires. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Michael pounded Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, displacing millions from their homes. Wildfires burned throughout California and tested the capacity of pro bono and legal aid systems across the state. The authors have direct experience with surviving natural disasters and providing coordinated, collaborative pro bono and legal aid relief for disaster recovery.
Natural disasters are more common and more destructive, the “new abnormal.” Natural disasters reveal a critical need to build increasingly accessible legal services for vulnerable populations. Law schools, legal clinics, and law professors are well positioned to serve vulnerable and marginalized communities that always suffer more in natural disasters, and this paper focuses on institutional responses that can address issues of poverty and race that exacerbate the harm caused by natural disasters.
As the drafting for this article was well underway, Hurricane Florence flooded North Carolina, Hurricane Michael pounded the Florida Panhandle, and, California suffered wildfires that were the largest in its recorded history. The same barriers to post-disaster benefits were repeated. Low-income and vulnerable people continue to experience significant problems accessing post disaster funding to survive, rebuild and return home.
Access to justice and civil legal aid after natural disasters should be rooted in preparedness and planning before the disaster. Understanding the nature of natural disasters, the ecosystem of response systems, existing networks, common legal issues, and the typical arc of recovery will help law schools, legal clinics, and lawyers prepare and plan for their responses. The models and lessons in this article may help provide increased post disaster legal services for vulnerable people to empower them with confidence and tools to serve their communities.
This article builds on lessons learned from previous natural disasters offering information and insights on responsive program design, professionalism, and disaster response systems. Building a framework for institutional responses in the legal academy can advance and improve access to justice for vulnerable communities recovering after a disaster.