As every Vermonter is aware, a storm that dumped up to two months’ worth of rain in two days starting July 10, 2023, caused catastrophic flooding around the state. The event was comparable to Tropical Storm Irene, which struck the state in 2011, and while the devastation was distributed a bit differently this time the damage was on par. Our VBA office on Court Street in Montpelier was spared but the calamity suffered by our neighbors is, almost literally on our doorstep and, metaphorically in our small state, on every doorstep.
We immediately began hearing from members who wanted to help, and we moved quickly to mobilize our response. There are now a couple of VBA-sponsored and co-sponsored projects available to provide this help:
Vermont Flood Relief Legal Assistance Project
The VBA is recruiting attorneys to provide pro bono advice over the phone for up to half an hour to answer pressing questions from flood victims. We expect questions to range across many areas of law including working with insurers and FEMA, employment loss, payments for mortgages, child support, or student loans, landlord/tenant issues and any other disruption or need brought about by the flooding.
We are also looking for lawyers to provide short-term limited-service assistance to flood victims—up to 5 hours—to help with more complex matters. This might include interpreting and enforcing insurance policies, investigating mortgage forbearance, seeking child support modification, intervening with landlords etc. The Vermont Bar Foundation has just expedited approval of a new low-bono project grant to provide participating attorneys $75 per hour for up to 5 hours of work for flood victims. Interested attorneys can thus choose to participate on a low bono or pro bono basis.
Flood victims will be matched with lawyers who have indicated expertise in the areas in which the victims have questions. Flood victims can call the VBA (1-800-639-7036 weekdays from 8 am to 4 pm) for more information or to sign up, click here. The sign-up form and more information for victims can also be found on the VBA website.
Help for Small Businesses
Well before the rain started falling, the Vermont Law and Graduate School and the VBA had established a project funded by the Small Business Administration (SBA) to, among other things, link low bono lawyers with small business owners who need advice and legal services related to their businesses. It can also be used to assist small businesses with flood related issues. The program will cover non-litigation legal needs for a business. We expect those needs to be similar to the questions mentioned above, but there will be a few issues unique to businesses. For those who cannot recover, they will need to wind up and close out their entities, negotiate an end to their commercial lease, and possibly file bankruptcy. For those who rebuild, there may also be employment questions, and contract review.
If you are a Vermont attorney and interested in joining the panel, here’s a form to sign up. Again, attorneys can find the form and more information about the project and other pro bono opportunities on the VBA website under the “For Attorneys” tab.
If you have questions about either project, please contact VBA Legal Access Coordinator, Mary Ashcroft, Esq. at firstname.lastname@example.org.
OTHER WAYS TO HELP
If you have expertise to lend to assist flood victims, or to train other attorneys in how they can assist, the VBA wants to hear from you. Attorney experts in areas of disaster relief and recovery – working with insurance companies, FEMA, housing issues, etc. – are needed to teach others what they know. If you can provide a CLE or an article on a topic related to disaster relief and recovery, please contact email@example.com.