Now more than ever, everyday people are recognizing the importance and value of the legal field. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, people all over the world are contending with unprecedented struggles.
Low-income families — and even middle-class families — are struggling to make ends meet. For those temporarily or permanently out of work, paying for necessities like rent, food, and utilities is becoming increasingly difficult. Small businesses are fighting to stay afloat, and families are struggling to stay together. There are many who need some kind of disaster relief owing to the pandemic.
That is where lawyers come in. It may come as a surprise to some to learn that lawyers are in extremely high demand amid the coronavirus, and there is a great deal that they can do to help.
Learn more about free legal consultations, pro bono legal representation, and the other ways lawyers are rising to the occasion to help people all over the world.
1. Disaster Relief
Unfortunately, natural disasters and emergencies are a fact of life — yes, even during a global pandemic. Last month, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Disaster Legal Services (DLS) announced its initiative to provide “free legal assistance to low-income hurricane survivors who cannot afford to hire a lawyer after a disaster,” WAFB9 reveals.
By taking advantage of this pro bono legal representation, those eligible are able to:
- Work with lawyers to file insurance claims. File insurance claims for necessary roof repairs and maintenance, or to replace rooftops altogether. It is best to work with a lawyer during this process, as you will need to prove the damage is new. You may also have to work closely with a lawyer to thoroughly vet your insurance company and insurance coverage and receive the most possible compensation. Attorneys can also help with insurance claims for hospital bills, medical bills, and your children’s pediatric care.
- Once your file is processed, lawyers can work with you and the appropriate contractors to ensure all necessary repairs are complete.
- Get free legal consultation about loss of life and property loss.
- Work with pro bono lawyers to resolve disputes with landlords.
Unfortunately, many people in Louisiana state are still struggling with the aftermath of Hurricanes Laura and Delta. If you are among them, visit FEMA’s official website or www.disasterlegalaid.org to see if you qualify for pro bono legal representation.
Across the U.S., many of us are all-too-familiar that disasters do not wait for global pandemics. Hurricanes Laura and Delta set the state of Lousiana back billions of dollars. For months on-end, wildfires raged through much of California to disastrous effects. Droughts, tornadoes, and severe flooding also ravaged the country. In total, “The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the country experienced 16 natural disasters this year, each with damages over a $1 billion,” ABC 7 writes. That was until Hurricane Delta, which cost $2 billion on its own.
These figures make it clear. Disasters have devastating effects and leave destruction, prohibitive costs, and loss in their wake. Well-meaning lawyers and pro bono legal representation can help pick up the pieces following big disasters — and that is more important this year, as Americans face disasters at the same time as the coronavirus pandemic.
2. Fighting For Child Custody
The pandemic is having many unforeseen consequences. One of those consequences is a greater incidence of divorce. According to a Legal Templates study, divorces were up by 34% in June 2020 when compared to June 2019. As recently as October, one DC law firm even reported a 70% increase in divorce inquiries and other matters regarding family law, Psychology Today reveals.
Unfortunately, many of these divorces involve children — and children make the divorce process infinitely more complicated. When children are involved, parents must reach child custody agreements, determine child support and/or spousal support payments, and stipulate when each parent is responsible for children’s legal decisions, education, and medical care. These decisions can be some of the most fraught and emotionally charged decisions parents will ever make.
Lawyer Walter Ty knows this, and these reasons drive him to provide thousands of hours of free legal counsel to those who need a child custody lawyer. “Seeing people go to court without a lawyer for some of life’s messiest, most consequential matters, such as whether they have rights to see their children, is what drives Ellicott City attorney Walter Ty to take on their cases — for free,” The Baltimore Sun writes.
Ty and many others understand that the stakes are too high and family laws are too complicated for parents to reasonably and ably represent themselves in court. Walter Ty is just one of 700 compassionate lawyers who make up the Maryland Volunteers Lawyers Service. The organization is responsible for “protecting vulnerable adults with guardianships, sorting out deed and title entanglements, and working with sex trafficking survivors to address prostitution convictions,” The Baltimore Sun continues. They may also help with bankruptcy, foreclosures, and expungements.
The demand is up for free legal consultation in regards to divorce and child custody — as well as for free legal consultation in general.
To complicate matters even further, some are finding that the coronavirus is having a direct impact on child custody arrangements and changing established visitations. The coronavirus is raising all kinds of ethical concerns. Ex-spouses who cannot agree on appropriate precautions and safety measures to take during the pandemic are turning to lawyers and judges to resolve their disputes.
Now more than ever, family law is complicated, and there is a higher demand to meet with family lawyers than ever before. If you are currently wrestling with a child custody dispute, reach out to local charities and volunteer organizations to see if you qualify for pro bono legal representation.
3. Small Black Businesses
The coronavirus pandemic has also brought financial devastation to small businesses. McNees Wallace and Nurick LLC, a law firm based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is an organization that seeks to help small black businesses stay afloat during these trying times.
In an effort to do their part, McNees established their Legal Equity Advancement Program (LEAP). The program provides pro bono legal representation to local black-owned businesses who may otherwise be unable to afford it.
According to The Burg, as many as 50% of businesses in south-central Pennsylvania are black-owned and qualify for these free legal services. If and when local businesses qualify, the program will enable them to work with insurance lawyers, real estate attorneys, tax attorneys, and other law firms where pro bono professionals can help get their businesses back on track. These services are more necessary than ever, especially as small, local businesses struggle to navigate the tricky and uncharted waters of the global pandemic.
To keep the program as representative and genuinely helpful as possible, McNees met with the Young Professionals of Color-Greater Harrisburg and the African American Chamber of Commerce to help establish LEAP.
The Harrisburg law firm is not the only one offering pro bono legal representation to black-owned businesses right now. Organizations like Black Connect can help business owners find financial aid and legal resources.
4. Veterans Legal Aid Week
Veterans need our help. Unfortunately, too few people realize that unemployment, homelessness, drug and substance abuse, and suicide run rampant among veterans. Just take a look at the facts:
- At least half of veterans experience mental illnesses, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- An estimated 11% of veterans are homeless. That amounts to roughly 40,056 homeless veterans.
- “More than 1 in 10 veterans are diagnosed with a substance use disorder.12 Veterans are more likely to use alcohol; many are also have a greater risk opioid overdose,” according to the American Addiction Centers (AAC). Plus, veterans that “abuse drug or alcohol are over twice as likely to die by suicide than other veterans,” the AAC continues.
- Anywhere from 17 to 20 veterans commit suicide daily, the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reveals. Veterans are 1.5 times more likely to take their own lives when compared to the general population.
To help bring down these numbers, it is critical to raise awareness, educate the public, and get involved whenever and wherever possible. Thanks to Texas Veterans Legal Aid Week and pro bono legal representation, lawyers are doing a great deal to make that happen.
Every year, Texas honors a statewide event called Texas Veterans Legal Aid Week to help veterans in need. This year, the event took place from Nov. 9 to 13, and free consultations and events took place largely virtually in order to protect veterans’ health and safety in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Each year legal aid organizations provide free legal services to more than 8,000 Texas veterans,” Fox 7 writes. During the event, veterans receive pro bono legal representation and free legal services in regards to difficulties securing medical benefits, delays in essential medical care, denial of medical care, and more.
The annual, Texas-based event owes much of its success to The Texas Access to Justice Foundation (TJAF). The organization contributed 3.3 million to pro bono legal representation and free legal services this year.
Veterans face many different challenges. Free legal representation — like the legal aid provided at Texas events — can help bridge that gap and give veterans the help they so desperately need. Ask local law firms what they are doing to help our veterans stay healthy and succeed.
5. Virtual Legal Assistant Initiative
Finally, many U.S. lawyers are bridging gaps during the coronavirus pandemic by offering virtual pro bono legal representation. For example, in Illinois, “COVID HELP (Housing and Economic Loss Prevention) is a statewide initiative to provide no-cost legal guidance and representation to Illinoisans experiencing common legal problems due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Law.com explains. By simply visiting COVIDhelpillinois.org, residents will have around-the-clock access to free legal services.
The initiative is committed to helping Illinoisans with any and all problems they may face in the midst of the pandemic. Their free, virtual services include legal assistance about estate law, bankruptcy, debt collections, eviction, foreclosure, employment and unemployment, guardianship, and more.
The field of law is complicated and continually changing. As such, states and programs like Illinois’s COVID HELP aspire to educate and help the public to the best of their ability.
Similarly, many law offices offer a free consultation as a precursor to their services. These same law offices are now offering these consultations virtually or over-the-phone if it makes clients feel more comfortable. There are many resources that provide extended, virtual pro bono legal representation as well. These resources vary by state. Use the internet to search for free legal services in your state. As previously mentioned, if you are the boss of a local black-owned business, a veteran, or a parent going through a divorce, you may be eligible for pro bono legal representation.
Legal services are expensive and necessary. They are even more necessary amid the stressors and devastation of the global pandemic. As such, lawyers across the U.S. — and around the world — are doing their part and giving back by providing pro bono legal services.