Law schools mobilize for hurricane relief

Fordham Law in The National Law Journal, November 05, 2012

Media Source

All of the law schools in New York and New Jersey had returned to class as of November 5, but it wasn't entirely business as usual. At a number of institutions, students and faculty were doing what they could to assist people who had been suffered losses during Hurricane Sandy.

Thirteen schools in the New York City area opened their libraries to faculty and students at partner schools who could not reach their home campuses. The consortium included Brooklyn Law School; Columbia Law School; Fordham University School of Law; New York University School of Law and both law schools associated with Rutgers University.

At Touro College Jacob D. Fuchberg Law Center, also a consortium member, it wasn't just classwork that students were worried about. The school has opened a pro bono storm help center that Long Island residents and call for assistance on a variety of storm-related problems.

The Touro Law Center—Hurricane Emergency Assistance and Referral Team, or TLC—HEART, was being staffed by law faulty, students, alumni and lawyers affiliated with the New York State Bar Association and the Suffolk County Bar Association.

The center was offering referrals to government agencies as well as private groups involved in storm assistance. The lawyers and law students were helping residents fill out applications for emergency assistance and offering free legal counseling regarding insurance, consumer complaints, unemployment and other storm-related problems.

Faculty and students spent the end of the previous week training and developing intake forms in anticipation of opening the helpline at 9 a.m. on November 5. Within two hours, about 20 people had called for help, said dean Patricia Salkin.

"A lot of people have questions about landlord-tenant laws, and their ability to break a lease or get access into a building that has been closed," she said. "We've also received some employment questions, such as, 'Do people who are hourly get paid if their place of business was closed last week?' "

About 20 students have already volunteered to staff phones and respond to emailed questions, and area attorneys were also pitching in.Many local legal services providers still lacked power, Salkin said. "We were able to use our ability to have power to be an early responder, and we're just plugging the gap right now," she said.

The school's helpline likely would remain active for the rest of the academic year, since storm-related legal issues are likely to linger, she said.

Students at a variety of area law schools were looking to help in other ways. The seven schools that make up the Greater PhiladelphiaRegion Law Schools consortium planned a fundraiser on November 16 at a local sports bar, The Field House, with proceeds pledged towards Sandy relief efforts.

"As law students, we are always happy to socialize and meet other fellow law students to share our miseries with," the event's student organizers wrote on their Facebook page. "As law students, we can help make a difference in the wake of Hurricane Sandy."

Some individual law schools and student bar associations were mobilizing. Student leaders at Widener University School of Law's two campuses organized a food drive for New Jersey residents, and were planning a November 10 volunteer trip to New Jersey.

Meanwhile, administrators at the schools that closed for an entire week after the storm rushed to announce class schedule changes to make up for the lost classroom time.