In Times of Chaos: Creating Blueprints for Law School Responses to Natural Disasters

52 Pages Posted: 4 Feb 2019 Last revised: 10 May 2019

See all articles by Jeffrey R. Baker

Jeffrey R. Baker

Pepperdine University School of Law; Faulkner University Jones School of Law

Christine E Cerniglia

Stetson University - College of Law

Davida Finger

Loyola University New Orleans College of Law

Luz E. Herrera

Texas A&M University School of Law

JoNel Newman

University of Miami - School of Law

Date Written: March 1, 2019

Abstract

A recent onslaught of domestic natural disasters created acute, critical needs for legal services for people displaced and harmed by storms and fires. In 2017, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Michael struck much of 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. In 2018, Hurricane Florence flooded North Carolina, and Hurricane Michael devastated the Florida Panhandle. California again suffered wildfires, the largest and most devastating in recorded history. Natural disasters are both more common and more destructive, the “new abnormal.”

Social and economic inequities emerge sharply after each natural disaster. Low-income and vulnerable people both suffer more from disasters and experience heightened barriers to accessing the post-disaster resources necessary to survive, rebuild, and return home. Marginalized and vulnerable populations, in particular, need legal assistance and expertise to overcome these barriers.

Natural disasters also inspire law students, law clinics, law schools and law faculty to help. Law school responses to assisting with post-disaster legal needs have been diverse. Some efforts have been law student initiated, while several law school clinics have provided legal assistance in a variety of ways. Some law schools have launched clinics with a devoted budget and strict focus on disaster practice. Some took on disaster work because it was the greatest need for existing clients and communities. Others shifted the focus of existing clinics to disaster needs, and still others launched temporary clinics in various forms to respond to acute crises. Some wanted to help but did not have ready relationships or resources to be responsive.

Each of the authors has direct experience surviving natural disasters and providing legal assistance from within the academy. This article provides necessary information about the nature of natural disasters, the ecosystem of response systems, and common legal issues for law schools and clinical programs interested in providing legal assistance to disaster-affected communities. It then describes varying models of law school institutional responses to increasingly common natural disasters. Building on lessons learned through these experiences, law schools can develop a blueprint for community-engaged disaster response. Building a framework for institutional responses in the legal academy can advance and improve access to justice for vulnerable communities recovering after a disaster and can provide students with an opportunity to learn from this social justice engagement.

Keywords: disaster, law school, clinic, assistance, legal services, vulnerable populations, recovery, justice, FEMA, hurricane

Suggested Citation

Baker, Jeffrey R. and Cerniglia, Christine E and Finger, Davida and Herrera, Luz E. and Newman, JoNel, In Times of Chaos: Creating Blueprints for Law School Responses to Natural Disasters (March 1, 2019). Louisiana Law Review, Forthcoming; Texas A&M University School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper 19-15; University of Miami Legal Studies Research Paper No. 19-4. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3324597 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3324597

Jeffrey R. Baker

Pepperdine University School of Law ( email )

24255 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90263
United States

Faulkner University Jones School of Law ( email )

Montgomery, AL 36109
United States

Christine E Cerniglia

Stetson University - College of Law ( email )

1401 61st Street South
Gulfport, FL 33707
United States

Davida Finger

Loyola University New Orleans College of Law ( email )

7214 St. Charles Ave., Box 901
Campus Box 901
New Orleans, LA 70118
United States
504-861-5596 (Phone)

Luz E. Herrera (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University School of Law ( email )

1515 Commerce St.
Fort Worth, TX 76102
United States

JoNel Newman

University of Miami - School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 248087
Coral Gables, FL 33146
United States
305-284-4125 (Phone)
305-284-6407 (Fax)

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