Press Releases

Posted by: Stacey Shrader Joslin on Feb 26, 2008

Partnership between Tennessee legal organizations and FEMA helps residents

NASHVILLE, Feb. 26, 2008 — A toll-free legal aid line is now available for victims of recent tornadoes in Tennessee. The service, which allows callers to request the assistance of a lawyer, is a partnership between the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services, three local legal aid organizations (the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands, Memphis Area Legal Services and West Tennessee Legal Services Inc.), the Tennessee Bar Association and its Young Lawyers Division, the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Victims facing legal issues who are unable to afford a lawyer may call (877) 396-6248 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. central time Monday through Friday to request assistance. Messages can be left at any time. Callers should identify that they are seeking tornado-related legal assistance. Victims who qualify for assistance will be matched with Tennessee lawyers who have volunteered to provide free legal help.

The type of legal assistance available includes:

  • Assistance with securing FEMA and other government benefits available to disaster victims
  • Assistance with life, medical and property insurance claims
  • Help with home repair contracts and contractors
  • Replacement of wills and other important legal documents destroyed in the disaster
  • Assisting in consumer protection matters, remedies and procedures
  • Counseling on mortgage-foreclosure problems
  • Counseling on landlord/tenant problems

When the U.S. President declares a major disaster, FEMA, in cooperation with the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, establishes a toll-free number for disaster victims to request legal assistance. Funding for the toll-free line comes from FEMA under the authority of Section 415 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Public Law 100-707). The American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division in turn partners with state bar associations and other legal organizations to recruit volunteer lawyers in affected areas to handle victims' cases.

Victims should be aware that there are some limitations on disaster legal services. For example, assistance is not available for cases that will produce a fee (i.e., those cases where attorneys are paid part of the settlement by the court). Such cases are referred to a local lawyer referral service. To determine whether an issue qualifies for free legal assistance, individuals should call (877) 396-6248 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. central time Monday through Friday for more information.

Local Press Contacts
For more information about disaster legal aid in specific areas of the state, please contact:

Davidson, Hickman, Houston, Lewis, Macon, Montgomery, Perry, Sumner, Trousdale and Williamson counties:

Lucinda Smith, Director

Nashville Pro Bono Program

(615) 780-7127

Jim Hawkins, Managing Attorney

Legal Aid Society - Gallatin Office

(615) 451-1880

Shelby and Fayette counties
Linda Warren Seely
Director of Pro Bono Programs
Memphis Area Legal Services
(901) 523-8822

Benton, Hardin, Haywood, Madison and McNairy counties
Steve Xanthopoulos
Executive Director
West Tennessee Legal Services, Inc.
(731) 423-0616

Partnership Members
The following organizations have joined forces to establish a toll-free phone line for Tennessee storm victims to request free legal assistance, and to provide volunteer attorneys to handle cases arising from recent storm damage.

American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (ABA YLD) - The ABA YLD, the largest national organization of young lawyers, provides leadership in serving the public and the profession, and promoting excellence and fulfillment in the practice of law. Its parent organization, the ABA, is the national voice of the legal profession and the largest voluntary professional membership group in the world.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) - FEMA coordinates the federal government's role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and recovering from all domestic disasters, whether natural or man-made, including acts of terror. Through an agreement with the American Bar Association, FEMA underwrites the cost of operating toll free legal assistance lines for victims in areas designated as federal disaster sites.

Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands (LAS) - LAS was founded in 1968 as Legal Services of Nashville by eight members of the Nashville Bar Association. It has since expanded and consolidated with other organizations to help low-income people in 48 counties through eight offices. The organization focuses on individual cases and community education, and serves over 7,000 people each year. Legal Aid Society's mission is to enforce, advance and defend the legal rights of low-income and vulnerable families in order to obtain for them the basic necessities of life. The Legal Aid Society also houses and directs the Nashville Bar Association Pro Bono Program, many of whose members also will be available to provide legal help to disaster victims.

Memphis Area Legal Services (MALS) - Since 1970, MALS has been committed to equal justice for all people, helping children, families and individuals solve problems that affect their basic needs. MALS serves nearly 8,000 people in distress each year. Its service area includes Fayette, Lauderdale, Shelby and Tipton counties.

Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS) - TALS is a statewide non-profit organization that seeks to build partnerships to support the delivery of effective civil legal services to low-income and elderly Tennesseans. TALS is committed to increasing equal access to justice across Tennessee.

Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) - The TBA is the largest professional association in Tennessee with nearly 10,000 members. Founded in 1881, the TBA provides opportunities for continuing legal education, professional development and public service. The TBA's dedication to serving the state's legal community is evidenced by its membership roll, which represents the entire spectrum of legal practice: plaintiff and defense lawyers, corporate counsel, judges, prosecutors, public defenders, government lawyers and legal services attorneys. Its Young Lawyers Division, comprised of lawyers in their first five years of practice or under 36 years of age, is dedicated to serving the public and the profession as the Òservice arm of the bar.

West Tennessee Legal Services, Inc. (WTLS) - WTLS is a non-profit organization that provides assistance in civil cases to individuals, families and communities. It services 17 West Tennessee counties including Benton, Carroll, Chester, Crockett, Dyer, Decatur, Gibson, Hardeman, Hardin, Haywood, Henry, Henderson, Lake, McNairy, Madison, Obion and Weakley.