More than 100 lawyers already have volunteered their services to help more than 400 victims of the Bastrop wildfire, and officials say they need more help from Texas attorneys in the days ahead. This morning, the Austin Bar Association offered training at its Austin headquarters to inform volunteer lawyers about common questions from the disaster victims. The Austin Bar and the Bastrop County Bar Association have been staffing legal clinics for fire victims since Sept. 7. Just yesterday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency determined that disaster legal services should be part of its relief package for the area, which means the agency will contract with the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (ABA-YLD) to provide organizational and financial assistance for a legal hotline, says David Nguyen, the director of the ABA-YLD’s Disaster Legal Services Program. The Austin Bar is now staffing a legal help desk within Bastrop’s emergency operations center. Many victims have questions about the insurance-claims process and landlord-tenant issues, like whether they must still pay rent if their apartment burned down, says David Courreges, co-chair of the Austin Bar’s Central Texas Wildfire Response Team. If lawyers can’t physically attend a clinic, they can still help clinic volunteers answer more complicated questions over the telephone, he says. In the long term, Chamberlain says, the Austin Bar will help wildfire victims find lawyers to represent them in fire-related claims through its lawyer-referral service or its volunteer legal-services system. Lawyers interested in volunteering should call the Austin Bar at (512) 472-0279 or visit its website. The ABA-YLD hotline number is (800) 504-7030. Texas RioGrande Legal Aid is also offering a hotline at (866) 757-1570. The State Bar of Texas also has a volunteer form. Having the Austin Bar involved has been helpful for the Bastrop community, says Bastrop County Bar President David Collins. “It makes you proud to be in a profession that your fellow members of the profession, they jump up. They don’t wait to be asked. They jump up and say, ‘How can we help,’ ” Collins says.
-- Angela Morris