MBA attorneys help out Hurricane Katrina victims

Issue November 2005 By Bill Archambeault

In response to Hurricane Katrina, the Massachusetts Bar Association has offered victims support in a number of ways, including providing legal information to evacuees at the Hynes Convention Center.

The MBA’s effort kicked off on Sept. 7 with the posting of a message from President Warren Fitzgerald on the Web site announcing that the MBA had set up a hotline to organize volunteer efforts, and all of the collections from the Sept. 7 MBA annual blood drive, held in conjunction with the American Red Cross, were donated to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The Young Lawyers Section Council also scheduled a fundraiser at the Elephant & Castle restaurant in Downtown Boston on Oct. 26, with $20 out of every $25 ticket going to relief efforts.

One of the MBA’s largest efforts, however, was mobilizing a team of volunteers at the MBA’s information table set up at the Hynes. In all, a dozen of its member attorneys donated their time answering evacuees’ questions from Sept. 27 through Sept. 30.

“Our staff and members just responded wonderfully,” Fitzgerald said. “I was very proud of what we were able to accomplish and want to thank the staff and our members who provided the advice to various Katrina victims.”

Fitzgerald also praised Public Services Director Elizabeth O’Neil, who coordinated the MBA’s relief efforts and spent time at Camp Edwards, where evacuees were temporarily living, and the Hynes.

Most of the victims who spoke with MBA attorneys at the Hynes had questions involving landlord/tenant or other property issues, she said.

“It was very, very heartbreaking sitting there and seeing people’s lives disrupted. You really felt for these people,” O’Neil said. “We found that while we answered quite a few questions, more people were dealing with emergency issues. While the legal issues are important, they couldn’t even see them yet.”

When the MBA attorneys were asked for their legal insight, thick packets from the Louisiana State Bar Association helped explain some of the peculiarities of Louisiana law to Massachusetts lawyers.

In addition to studying up on Louisiana law, O’Neil praised the volunteers for donating their time on such short notice.

“The response from the attorneys was great. We found out that we were needed on Friday (Sept. 23) and had to be ready for the following Tuesday through Friday,” O’Neil said. “A lot of people had to really manipulate their schedules. But I think it was valuable for the attorneys to see the devastation these people have gone through. Seeing the assistance Massachusetts put together on very short notice was very heartwarming.”

Fitzgerald said it was important that the MBA play a role in the relief effort.

“Being able to provide any advice and assistance to these displaced victims was a very valuable contribution to the relief victims,” he said. “If we could give help in any way, then we’re doing a good job.”