The North Carolina Bar Foundation and the N.C. Pro Bono Resource Center convened the first Disaster Legal Services Summit on Aug. 6 at the N.C. Bar Center.

The North Carolina Bar Foundation (NCBF) and the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center convened the first Disaster Legal Services (DLS) Summit on Tuesday, Aug. 6, at the N.C. Bar Center in Cary.

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The program brought together providers of legal services from across the state and beyond to review last year’s DLS efforts and prepare for the coming year. The summit was especially timely, given the disaster wrought by Hurricane Florence last year and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

“By bringing together the many individuals and organizations who have an interest in supporting Disaster Legal Services, we significantly improved our collaborative processes for reaching and helping future survivors of natural disasters in North Carolina,” said Kim Bart Mullikin, senior director of the NCBF.

“It was a really productive day and I am grateful to everyone who shared their time and resources to make this a hugely successful event. The North Carolina Bar Association and Foundation look forward to continuing the conversation and growing collaborative Disaster Legal Services efforts.”

The summit, added Katherine Asaro, staff attorney for the N.C. Pro Bono Resource Center, was especially meaningful because it provided the attendees with time to reflect and plan.

“To be that much better prepared the next time a disaster strikes will be of the upmost importance to all citizens of North Carolina.” Asaro said. “To have all those stakeholders come together and collaborate and be honest about what worked and what did not and plan for the future was extremely inspiring.

“I know everyone left with a ‘to-do’ list and energized to do what needs to be done to prepare. I am so proud to be part of disaster legal services in North Carolina.”

Marlena Byrne, Deputy Chief Resilience Officer for the N.C. Office of Recovery and Resiliency provided the keynote address. According to its website, the Office of Recovery and Resiliency falls within the Department of Public Safety and was established in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence to help coordinate disaster recovery and administer funds received by the state through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery Program, in partnership with the N.C. Department of Commerce.

“The aftermath of a disaster, we all know, is a time of profound need for so many people,” Byrne said. “Whether it’s providing assistance for navigating conflicts, FEMA appeal processes or applications, advising low-income renters threatened with unlawful eviction, or just listening to someone describe their loss and fears.”

The ability of organizations and volunteers to mobilize in a time of crisis and work together, she added, is critical to North Carolina’s most vulnerable citizens.

“I really want to thank you all for the work you are doing with your organizations,” Byrne continued. “We as government, whether it is at the federal level or the state level or the local level can’t do everything.

“We can’t be there as much as we would like to for everyone at all times, so having this capacity to draw on our volunteer community, and especially our legal community, is so important. The pro bono legal work that you’ve been doing is so meaningful and it is so commendable.”

The summit began with self-introductions of all of the attendees, including LeAnn Nease Brown and Mark Holt, president and president-elect, respectively, of the NCBA and the NCBF. Asaro then laid out the purpose and goals of the event, followed by a historical perspective on DLS before, during and after Hurricane Florence.

Bethan Eynon, Director of Public Interest Careers at Duke University of School of Law, was the featured morning speaker. She facilitated additional review of the DLS response to Hurricane Florence that included participant feedback and discussion.

Following the keynote address by Deputy Byrne, the afternoon session continued with breakout sessions led by Eynon, John Kasprzak, Assistant Dean for Student Development for the UNC School of Law, and Camille Stell, president of Lawyers Mutual Consulting & Services.

“A highlight of the day for me was seeing constituents from organizations across the state coming together for crucial conversations and debrief on the important work of disaster relief,” Stell said. “Some of the organizations represented have overlapping missions and I’m sure people were slightly nervous about whether the review of the service work would reveal cracks in the system or insurmountable obstacles.

“Instead, I observed as each group spoke, they quickly found consensus on what could have been handled better and groups were quick to point out when someone else was better equipped to handle a solution than they were. Everyone displayed their best behavior and, in a time when discourse often seems difficult, if not impossible, more than 40 people communicated in a civil manner with both ideas as well as solutions for a stronger disaster relief response the next time it is needed.”

The breakout groups focused their attention on community-wide planning and preparation as it relates to:

  • DLS Hotline/Intake/Case Referral
  • Disaster Recovery Center Legal Services
  • FEMA Appeal and Other In-Person Legal Clinics

The program concluded with reporting from the breakout groups and a summation of the day’s discussions.

Attendees are listed below with their organizations:

Andrew VanSingel, ABA YLD DLS Program Advisor
Cheryl Naja, Alston & Bird
Iris Green, Disability Rights NC
Bethan Eynon, Duke University School of Law
Linda Stephens, Hedrick Gardner
Jarrad Smith, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP
Camille Stell, Lawyers Mutual Consulting & Services
Benjamin Williams, Legal Aid of NC-Farmworker Unit
Lesley Albritton, Legal Aid of North Carolina
Nathan Koenning, Legal Aid of North Carolina
Blaine Mays, Legal Aid of North Carolina
Nicole Mueller, Legal Aid of North Carolina
Emma Smiley, Legal Aid of North Carolina
Jacob Wisner, Legal Aid of North Carolina
David Wormald, Legal Aid of North Carolina
Jennifer Lechner, NC Equal Access to Justice Commission
Jennifer Simmons, NC Equal Access to Justice Commission
Jared Smith, NC Equal Access to Justice Commission
Bethany Farrelly, NC IOLTA
Mary Irvine, NC IOLTA
Marlena Byrne, NC Office of Recovery and Resiliency
Jonathan Doerr, NC Office of Recovery and Resiliency
Barbara Herrera, NC Office of Recovery and Resiliency
Will Polk, NC Department of Public Safety
Katherine Asaro, NC Pro Bono Resource Center
Sylvia Novinsky, NC Pro Bono Resource Center
Catherine Piwowarski, Solo Practitioner
Betsy Goodale, South Carolina Bar
John Kasprzak, UNC School of Law
LeAnn Nease Brown, President, NCBA/NCBF
Mark Holt, President-Elect, NCBA/NCBF
Kernodle Kernodle-Hodges, NCBA Paralegal Division
Rachel Royal, NCBA Paralegal Division
Cabell Clay, NCBA Young Lawyers Division
Brooks Jaffa, NCBA Young Lawyers Division
Andy Jones, NCBA Young Lawyers Division
Kristen Kirby, NCBA Young Lawyers Division
Nisel Desai, NCBA YLD Pro Bono Committee
Lauren Colvard, NCBA Communities Manager
Kim Bart Mullikin, North Carolina Bar Foundation
Nihad Mansour, North Carolina Bar Foundation
Paul Vaughan, North Carolina Bar Foundation

“To be that much better prepared the next time a disaster strikes will be of the upmost importance to all citizens of North Carolina.”
Katherine Asaro, N.C. Pro Bono Resource Center Staff Attorney