[Thomas G. Stolpman] Thomas G. Stolpman

Bar aids victims of New Year floods

State Bar President Thomas Stolpman responds in this column each month to questions from bar members. To submit questions for the president, please send them to: Ask the President, California Bar Journal, 555 Franklin St., San Francisco 94102-4498; fax to 415/561-8247; or e-mail to

This month's question and Stolpman's response:

QUESTION: What is the State Bar doing in response to the 1997 floods?

STOLPMAN: The Bar activates its LAW-HELP-CALIFORNIA program whenever the president declares an area of California a federal disaster.

The 1997 flooding is the 17th federally declared disaster in California since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. So fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, we have a lot of experience responding to disasters.

Working with the legal community -- which includes bar associations, young lawyer groups, legal services programs, State Bar-certified lawyer referral services and pro bono programs -- this disaster legal services program provides the following assistance:

In response to the recent floods, the State Bar staff faxed information to approximately 150 programs and associations in the more than 40 affected counties within two working days of the federal disaster declaration.

Training materials have been sent to local legal services programs and groups of lawyers are organizing to provide free legal assistance to flood victims.

The State Bar staff also stays in communication with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Program) and OES (Office of Emergency Services) in order to provide current information to local bar groups as promptly as possible.

It should be noted that FEMA and the ABA YLD (American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division) have a contract that provides for young lawyers to render free legal assistance to disaster victims.

The lawyers typically advise victims on disaster-related legal issues such as housing, consumer problems and insurance.

Of course, needs vary from community to community and part of LAW-HELP-CALIFORNIA's effectiveness depends on an ongoing assessment of who's doing what and how the State Bar can help. As of press time, the staff was determining which bar groups needed the most assistance.

California has been hit with more than its share of disasters, and many bar associations and legal services programs have become expert in delivering legal services to disaster victims.