Help clinics, live chats offer free legal services to Texas hurricane victims

Marilyn Tennissen Dec. 2, 2008, 9:00am

Several of the state's legal aid organizations are offering a variety of free services to help victims of Hurricane Ike deal with legal problems.

Lone Star Legal Aid is hosting weekly legal help clinics on Galveston Island.

According to a press release, residents can ask for help with legal problems including Federal Emergency Management Agency denials and appeals, public benefits problems, home repair and contractor scams, insurance claim denials, school enrollment for children of evacuated families, hurricane property rights and tax problems, public housing matters, landlord-tenant disputes and hurricane-related evictions.

The free help clinics will be held 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays, Dec. 3, 10 and 17 at Holy Rosary Catholic Church, Classroom 6, 1420 31st St., Galveston.

Those who plan on attending should bring any helpful information such as FEMA paperwork or insurance policy information.

The group also held a series of help clinics in the Houston area in November.

Lone Star Legal Aid is a non-profit law firm that provides free civil legal assistance to individuals and families who have immediate needs but cannot afford an attorney.

It is the fourth largest legal organization of its type in the United States, and provides services to 72 counties in the eastern and Gulf Coast regions of Texas and portions of southwest Arkansas.

According to a press release, the Lone Star teams of disaster recovery experts have traveled thousands of miles across the state, advising and helping Texans wherever possible through mobile offices at FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs), through help centers in community organizations and churches and through the Hurricane Hotline,(800)733-8394.

In addition to the free clinics, hurricane victims in any part of the state can take advantage of a new Web site that allows them to get live advice from a legal expert.

The Houston Bar Association has been working with Lone Star Legal Aid and other legal aid organizations to develop LiveHelp, an online resource which enables Hurricane Ike victims to conduct a live online chat with attorneys recruited by the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program.

According to a press release from the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, attorneys will answer questions and also refer those seeking help to legal resources specific to FEMA appeals and other disaster-related issues.

LiveHelp is free and can be reached through the Web site

Attorneys are available weekdays from 1-5 p.m. When help is not available, online users may leave a message. The TexasLawHelp Web site also contains information on legal resources for disaster victims.

Houston attorney Andrew Strong spearheaded the LiveHelp project for the State Bar of Texas' Legal Services to the Poor in Civil Matters Committee.

"We are incredibly excited about this new service, which provides attorneys located anywhere in the nation the opportunity to help people without the challenges of travel to remote locations," Strong said in a press release. "Through an online chat session, volunteer attorneys can complement and expand on available on-the-ground legal services."

The Houston Bar Association, working with Lone Star Legal Aid and Texas Legal Services Center, have provided extensive training to over 200 attorneys who will be offering pro bono legal aid to Hurricane Ike victims.

Texas is the seventh state to implement LiveHelp on its statewide legal services Web site for consumers, and the first state to provide LiveHelp assistance using volunteer attorneys.

LiveHelp was developed by Pro Bono Net, a national nonprofit dedicated to increasing access to justice through the innovative use of technology.

Funding for the new technology has been made available through an emergency grant from the Texas Access to Justice Foundation.

Attorneys interested in signing up to volunteer for LiveHelp can do so through the State Bar of Texas Web site at

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