April 30, 2011; Source: ENCToday | In the wake of the tornados that devastated communities across the south last week, lawyers have mobilized to help provide free legal services and to prevent people from being further victimized by the scams that too often follow in the wake of disaster.

In Birmingham, Ala., the firm of Thomas, Means, Gillis & Seay, P.C. has volunteered to assist with the filing of insurance and FEMA claims, advising on landlord-tenant issues, and other matters related to the storms. In the Jacksonville, N.C. area, a judge asked a local firm to recruit attorneys to do the same sorts of things on a pro bono basis and the response was heartening with 27 lawyers responding.

“We have all heard stories about people being taken advantage of by unscrupulous people during times when people affected may be stressed and not thinking clearly,” said Kevin McConnell an attorney with Tisdale, McConnell and Bardill who recruited many of the lawyers in the effort. “If they will take a step back, get something in writing and get a lawyer to look at it … they are going to be much better off in the long run.”

Jason Humphrey, of Tantum and Humphrey in Swansboro, N.C., said, “This is a way for them to have someone review a contract without spending money they may or may not have . . . It is not often (the Onslow County Bar Association) gets to provide a service on such a large scale, and it is a prime time for us to donate our services to that cause.”

John Drew Warlick, another attorney said, “I hear there are already people running scams, so we can be there to offer advice on what to be careful of and what to look out for and review contracts. These poor people have already suffered enough damages; it is just something we should do.”

This kind of spontaneous organization of aid in the wake of a community’s loss provides a sense of the untapped highly skilled resources around us even in ordinary times and challenges us to make better asset maps of what we all have within easy reach as partners. —Ruth McCambridge