The Aftermath of Katrina
by Chris Little
It is now about one month after Katrina’s visit and there are still many needs that must be fulfilled. We have been told of the horrors that Katrina had on the Louisiana legal system. Professor Michelle Ghetti, from the Southern University Law Center, sent an e-mail that made it to many lawyers’ computers. In that e-mail, she described 5,000 to 6,000 lawyers, one-third of the lawyers in Louisiana, who lost offices, libraries, computers, client files, and even clients. These lawyers do not have offices to return to. If they are litigators, they do not have courts to argue in. If they are transactional lawyers, they are not transacting much business. Professor Ghetti described how Louisiana’s state judicial system was going to suffer for years. Many local courts in the parishes were completely destroyed, and there is the possibility that some prosecutions will never happen, some civil litigations will never occur. We can only hope that justice will be preserved and that the rule of law will prevail, in spite of Katrina’s strength.
The DBA, Colorado Defense Lawyers Association, Colorado Trial Lawyers Association, and many other specialty and local bar associations responded very quickly with offers for volunteers and money. It is expected that the CDLA/CTLA fundraising effort will contribute nearly $75,000 to the American Red Cross. This is in addition to a great sum of money donated through the Colorado Bar Association’s website and in addition to tens — possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars — that local law firms and lawyers gave to their charities of choice. We should all be applauded for our generous reaction to this tragic event.
Additionally, the DBA has been flooded with requests to volunteer. The DBA and CBA will be involved with providing legal assistance, both locally and at the sites hit hardest in the South. We anticipate much of the need to be in the areas of family, real estate, public benefits, trust and estate, elder, and insurance law. If you would like to offer your services, either locally or nationally, contact Penny Young, firstname.lastname@example.org, and indicate the area of law in which you can assist.
I want to encourage all of us to continue to support this cause. There are a number of places where we can give assistance. I will mention a few. The first is the Louisiana State Bar Association’s website, http://www.lsba.org. The LSBA also has established a relief fund in which lawyers can assist other members of their profession. The New Orleans Bar Association, at http://www.neworleansbar.org. We also may help with humanitarian groups, some of which can be found at http://www.nvoad.org. The American Bar Association has established the ABA Task Force on Hurricane Katrina to enable lawyers to provide a variety of services to victims. To volunteer, contact http://www.abanet.org/katrina. As always, there is the American Red Cross, the Baton Rouge Bar Foundation, The Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, and many other organizations. You can find many of them on the CBA website.
In the upcoming months, lawyers in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama will start to return to work. They will begin to give clients advice and start to reinvigorate their judicial and legal systems. They probably will need more money and resources. Insurance claims will aid, but insurance won’t solve the problem created by lost deeds, lost promissory notes, or even lost evidence. Lost documents and evidence will cause problems to clients in the future.
In closing, I hope you have evaluated the need to have risk management protocols in your office. Professor Ghetti’s e-mail should be a great reminder about the importance of having a risk management procedure in hand in case of fire, flood, or devastating natural or unnatural tragedy in Denver. Lawyers in New Orleans lost everything. We should take their sad lesson and make certain that every DBA member understands the need to have risk management protocols in place. The DBA and the CBA have excellent seminars and staff to assist lawyers in the preparation of risk management protocols. I urge you to adopt some form of protocol to avoid the pitfalls that the lawyers in the Deep South are encountering.
I encourage each of you to continue to support the survivors of Katrina. I applaud all of you for your efforts thus far.