Hurricane Sandy marked the most significant natural disaster in living memory in the northeast with a direct hit to Long Island – home to 3 million people and Touro Law Center. Immediately following the storm, Touro Law launched a significant community service and pro bono outreach effort – providing free legal assistance and referrals to anyone in need in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. We added a Disaster Law course to our curriculum and opened a Disaster Relief Law Clinic, where students work under close faculty supervision with clients. In addition, we are organizing service trips to the area for law students from around the country who want to come to the region and offer assistance.
Click here to see our students in action as featured on CBS News on June 19, 2013.
Two days after the storm, faculty, staff, students and alumni gathered in our auditorium to brainstorm about what we could do to help our devastated community. We also invited the ABA Young Lawyer Division Representative who is the local liaison with FEMA, the leadership of the Suffolk County Bar Association, and other local NGO leaders. What emerged from that initial meeting of about 80 volunteers was remarkable. It was agreed that we would immediately begin collecting necessities to help individuals and families who had urgent needs for physical items, and that we would organize and coordinate with the local legal services providers, a pro bono legal services effort. That same week, on Friday, we held a press conference to announce our intention to serve as a point of coordination and referral. We publically announced a phone number and email address where the public could access help beginning the following week. That week we organized our list of student volunteers, developed in-take sheets, set up a web address and Facebook page where information could be posted for the public, and we developed a training program for students, faculty, staff and alumni who volunteered to staff the “HEART Line.”
Exactly one week after the storm, Touro Law was the first legal services organization in the region to mobilize and launch a pro bono effort to help as many people and small businesses affected by the storm as possible. The phone/email referral and assistance center opened which we called TLC HEART (Touro Law Center Hurricane Emergency Assistance Response Team). Still today, trained law students and volunteers provide assistance for a broad array of inquiries including complex legal issues in the areas of insurance, landlord tenant law, labor law and others.
Next we began to develop a more robust plan for sustained leadership and service. Our faculty approved a new seminar course in disaster law to be offered in January 2013 and a new disaster law clinic, which is fully staffed with faculty and students and is actively engaged in providing legal services to our community.
This still was not sufficient to satisfy the unmet legal needs in the community. We were able to hire a coordinator to facilitate the arrival and placement of law students from other schools around the country who want to travel to the region and offer help.
Lastly, at the suggestion and organization of Touro Law Center, all of the legal service providers on Long Island met together in the same room at Touro Law Center to create an ongoing forum for the open exchange of information and support to enable all of us to better serve those in need. The initial meeting resulted in now weekly coordinated phone calls and wiser sharing and allocation of available resources.
Today, Touro Law Center stands as a leader in the disaster relief effort. We have collaborated with bar associations and non-profit organizations as well as local state and federal government agencies. We have received referrals for assistance from places as varied as local church organizations to the Governor’s office to FEMA. By June 2013 Touro Law has had more than 1,000 contacts with individuals and families in crisis. These efforts will no doubt make a lasting and positive impact on the community and on a generation of future lawyers.