Think back just a few years, and what events stand out in your memory? Some really big ones may jump out at you: the 2004 Indonesian tsunami; the 2011 Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident. A little more recent and closer to home: Hurricane Katrina, August 2005 (over 1800 dead, over $100 billion in damage). The Joplin, Missouri tornado, May 2011 (over 150 dead, nearly $3 billion).
But when you think about just last year in the United States, the number and frequency of natural disasters becomes more striking. The worst of 2012:
- Hurricane Isaac, August – AL, FL, LA, MS – storm surge, flooding, tornadoes: over $2 billion
- Hurricane Sandy, October – entire East Coast (24 states), especially NY and NJ – storm surge, flooding, wind – 73 dead, over $65 billion (second costliest in US history after Katrina)
- January tornado outbreak – 25 tornadoes in AR, IL, KY, MS, TN
- February Leap Day tornado outbreak – 42 tornadoes in AL, IL, IN, KS, KY, MO, NE, TN
- Early March tornado outbreak – 70 tornadoes in AL, GA, IL, IN, KY, MS, NC, OH, TN, WV
- Late March tornado outbreak – 63 tornadoes in AR, GA, IL, KS, KY, LA, MN, MO, MS, NC, NE, OH, OK, TX
- Mid-April tornado outbreak – 114 tornadoes in AR, IA, KS, MN, NE, OK, SD, TX
- Christmas tornadoes – 31 tornadoes in AL, LA, MS, NC, TX
- June derecho (fast-moving storms with damaging straight-line winds) – 28 dead, nearly $3 billion in DC, MD, NJ, OH, PA, VA, WV
- Oklahoma wildfires in August – 121 homes, 52,000 acres
- Colorado wildfires – 12 major fires, with Waldo Canyon being the most damaging, burning over 350 homes in Colorado Springs – while the High Park fire burned over 250 homes and 87,000 acres outside Fort Collins
Does it seem like everything is burning up, blowing down, or washing away yet? How about the new so far in 2013:
- Hattiesburg MS tornado (EF4) in Feb - 82 injured, $28 million
- Late May tornado outbreak in AR, IA, IL, KS, MI, MO, NE, NY, OK, PA, TX
- Moore OK tornado (EF5) in May 24 – dead, 377 injured, $2 billion
- El Reno OK tornado (EF5 again) in May – 8 dead, 114 injured, $40 million
- Colorado wildfires again – 7 major fires so far, with Black Forest being the most damaging, burning over 500 homes outside Colorado Springs (again), 14,280 acres, 2 dead.
Now think beyond the horrifying pictures and news reports, to the aftermath. Many people are injured, many more have lost much or all of what they had. Does insurance cover it? How long does it take to get insurance money? What kind of red tape must be dealt with to rebuild? Think you might need a lawyer to sort it out?
Because Colorado Springs was hit by devastating wildfires two years in a row (disclaimer: also because I used to live there), I’ll use it as an example.
After the Waldo Canyon fire in 2012, the city produced a Recovery Resource Guide that included information on demolition and rebuilding, consumer protection (because scam artists descended on the community), and dealing with insurance. Workshops were held by the Colorado Springs Homebuilders Association and Colorado Springs Together (an organization set up specifically to help fire victims) to help victims deal with insurance issues. Even so, a group of fire survivors organized under the name Catastrophic Insurance Complaints in Colorado Association to get the attention of politicians.
Fast forward to the 2013 Black Forest fire, with the Waldo Canyon fire fresh in the memory of local politicians and lawyers alike. Public meetings and assistance centers were set up while the fire was in progress. And the El Paso County Bar Association – already known for its Lawyer Referral Service, Pro Bono Project, and free legal clinics – had lawyers available at these assistance centers to answer questions. It also published a handout with instructions for making an insurance claim. Both the El Paso County and Denver Bar Associations set up special “ask-a-lawyer” programs for fire victims. And the Colorado Bar Association has a directory of Disaster Legal Services links.
Response to disasters isn’t limited to lawyers and politicians – or to Colorado, of course. But when the Red Cross and medical volunteers and food aid are no longer needed, the need for legal services may just be starting. Find contacts for you local bar association and other sources of legal help at CourtReference.
Tags: Colorado · Free Legal Help · News · states
Finding an attorney can be a daunting process! Do you rely on personal recommendations from friends or family members? Select from the parade of lawyers advertising on late-night television? Search the internet for professional directories and performance reviews?
There are countless resources available to assist you with searching for legal representation. In this article, I’d like to recommend one simple starting point: consult your local state or county bar association. More than 300 lawyer referral programs are offered by area bar associations to direct legal consumers to appropriate counsel.
These programs were created to assist the public in selecting attorneys with experience tailored to meet specific legal consumer needs. To identify these needs, a referral clerk typically conducts a pre-screening interview to determine if an actual legal issue exists. If the matter can be resolved by a government or public service agency, the client will be directed to that resource.
Bar association referral staff can also direct consumers to other legal service providers, pro bono programs, and low-to-moderate income legal clinics. (For additional help locating legal resources and representation for impoverished clients, see next month’s blog post.)
The primary mission of the bar association referral programs is to provide consumers unbiased, qualified referrals based upon their specific legal needs. These programs presume an ability by the client to pay regular attorney fees (if the referred attorney is retained), but there is usually no fee for seeking a referral. Further, most initial referral meetings are offered at a free, discounted or capped rate ($0 dollars to $50 in the jurisdictions surveyed), so the consultation appointment is not prohibitively priced. Some lawyer referral offices provide up to three referrals at the same discounted rate, so you can seek a second or third opinion at a relatively affordable cost. Initial appointments average 30 minutes in length; confirm the maximum time allowed for the discounted rate when booking the appointment. You may also want to discuss the attorney’s fee schedule at the time of booking or during your meeting.
What type of attorneys are available through lawyer referral programs run by state and local bar associations? First, all are members in good standing and licensed to practice in the requested jurisdiction. They may be members of multiple state bars, or the federal bar (which may be important if your legal matter involves a multi-state conflict of laws issue, or a federal question). They may be sole practitioners or members of a firm, have general practices or very specialized areas of expertise.
How does the referral staff match your needs to an appropriate attorney? Is the selection process random, based on a simple rotation, or may you request legal representation reflective of your personal needs and preference?
First, all participating attorneys of a referral service provide extensive educational and professional backgrounds. Some attorneys pay to be on these services; others may participate by virtue of bar admission. It varies from state to state. You may wish to receive a referral to an attorney based upon years of practice or level of experience in a particular legal area.
You may prefer a female or male attorney (many referral services honor that request), or a practitioner who speaks a particular language or has translating services available. Perhaps you need an attorney who reads sign language, or who has experience representing physically or mentally challenged individuals. Some clients seek attorneys who are willing to take meetings on weekends or at their homes due to mobility issues. All these criteria can be included in a referral request.
Be sure to identify in your referral request (whether conducted by phone interview or completed online by screening application) the general nature of your legal issue, but also peripheral issues or factors that may be of significance or particular concern to you. For example, if seeking an estate lawyer to prepare your will, will you be able to provide future pet maintenance and care by establishing an animal trust? If you are facing a marital dissolution but your spouse is in another country, can you seek guidance for an international parenting plan? If incorporating a business, can the attorney advise you of tax incentives for “green” technology and design?
A lawyer referral service clerk can assist you in the proper categorization of your primary legal needs, but be sure to address those secondary factors to get the best “niche” referral. Express your preferences and desires, but refrain from asking for “the meanest pit bull divorce lawyer” in the area. (Author disclosure: I worked for a state bar association referral service and cannot count the number of times I received some variation on that request! Don’t ask. No subjective opinions will be offered.)
Again, the search for legal counsel can be overwhelming, but finding the right attorney is critical. Take advantage of the services offered by your local bar association, and the resources they have at their disposal to select appropriate legal counsel for you.
For an extensive list of lawyer referral services by jurisdiction, search CourtReference.com. Simply enter your state and county, then select the category “Legal Aid and Lawyer Referral” to review available of referral services and directories.
Tags: Free Legal Help
This blog has been following the expansion of the use of technology in the justice system. See our posts about electronic filing (2010), court appearances by telephone (2011), and fighting tickets online (2012).
Video technology is also being embraced by the courts. One well-established use of video is the recording of depositions. A deposition is the sworn oral testimony of a party or witness that takes place prior to trial. Depositions are a form of evidence, and they are normally taken in court reporters’ or lawyers’ offices. Video is simply used to record the testimony, and replaces a voice recording or the transcription of the court reporter’s notes on paper.
Video court appearances by incarcerated criminal defendants have also been in use for some time, because a video link from the courtroom to the jail is much easier and more secure than transporting the defendant from the jail to the courtroom and back. Video appearances may also be used in applications for restraining or protective orders, to allow the applicant to testify without having to be in the same room as the person they need to be protected from. Another common use of video is in child custody hearings, where one party resides in a different state.
Use of video in court proceeding has been increasing as video technology has become cheaper, more reliable, and more mainstream. Many states now permit video conferences, appearances, and testimony in many other types of cases, not just those noted in the previous paragraphs. Use of video is governed by each state’s court rules, and CourtReference has links to each state’s court rules in its Self-Help and Legal Research category. Finding the relevant court rules that govern video can be time-consuming, so South Dakota’s 2nd Judicial Circuit has published information about its video appearance procedures on its website. Watch for more creative uses of video and other technologies by checking court rules and court website resources, right here on CourtReference.
Tags: Court Systems · Courtreference.com · New Sites · News · South Dakota · Technology