Responding to Sandy – by Carey R. Dunne

If New York City Bar Association members are good in a crisis, it’s unfortunately because they’ve had a lot of experience. In the aftermath of  9/11, the mayor announced that the City Bar would have pro bono lawyers ready for victims and their families. The next day, we had hundreds of volunteers lined up down 44th Street and onto Sixth Avenue for training. Following Katrina, the City Bar and the City Bar Justice Center shared our 9/11 experience with our counterpart lawyers in New Orleans, and after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, we helped Haitians here receive Temporary Protected Status.

So it has been in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. While some of the city’s legal services groups were thankfully almost immediately in the field working on FEMA applications, there needs to be a system in place to accommodate the tremendous numbers of attorneys stepping forward to help and to ensure that legal assistance is available for as long as victims need it. Fortunately, marshalling the resources of the legal community, training and supervising volunteers, and organizing clinics is what the City Bar Justice Center does so well.

On November 5th, Barbara Berger Opotowsky and Lynn Kelly, the Executive Directors of the City Bar and Justice Center respectively, convened a meeting of legal service providers and local bar associations, including Brooklyn Volunteer Lawyers Project, LawHelpNY, Lawyers Alliance for New York, Legal Services for New York City, New York County Lawyers’ Association, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, ProBonoNet, The Legal Aid Society, Volunteers of Legal Service, and the City Bar’s Committees on Insurance and Pro Bono & Legal Services.

The groups came out of the meeting with a three-part plan. First, and ProBono.Net will share disaster-relief information online, the former for affected individuals and the latter for volunteer lawyers.

Second, pro bono lawyer trainings were quickly held at the City Bar, on November 9th with Legal Services NYC, The Legal Aid Society, and the City Bar’s Pro Bono & Legal Services Committee on issues affecting individuals and families on matters including FEMA applications, housing, disaster unemployment insurance, replacement of documents; and on November 13th with the Justice Center’s Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP; and Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP on issues affecting small businesses, including commercial leasing, SBA, and loans. It was inspiring to see hundreds of determined lawyers and a cross-section of our membership pack the City Bar’s meeting hall to gather the knowledge they needed to go out in the field to help people.

Videos of the trainings are available on ProBono.Net, and you can check that website or the Justice Center’s website to find out about future trainings, including one to be announced soon on insurance denials that will take place next month.

Third, the groups committed to organizing pro bono legal clinics in hard-hit communities in the weeks ahead.

I know that many of us, or our families or friends, were directly affected by Sandy, and many will be eager to provide any kind of relief as soon as possible. If your law firm or company is interested in responding to specific requests for specialized assistance, please contact Brenna DeVaney, Chair of the City Bar’s Pro Bono and Legal Services Committee, at brenna.devaney(at)

It fills me with pride to see our City Bar members rise to the occasion as they have in the past, and I know our response will be historic in proportion to this crisis. Remember, we’re only as good as our last response, so let’s show what we can do. Please remember, too, that this volunteering is for the long haul. Some of the specific legal needs may not be apparent for weeks or months, and legal issues will linger well after the media moves on and fewer visible reminders of the storm remain. When people have stopped paying attention is when a lawyer can really be somebody’s hero.

Carey R. Dunne is President of the New York City Bar Association.