Stetson launches project working with disaster relief hotline attorneys to assist victims of weather disasters

(L-R): Student works with Professor Cerniglia in the Disaster Research Project.

(L-R): First-year student Peter Lubas works with Professor Cerniglia on the Disaster Research Project.

Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, Florida, launched a Disaster Research Project during the fall semester to assist with a disaster relief hotline providing Floridians with legal services. Stetson Law students working with the project conduct legal research for attorney volunteers helping the victims of weather disasters through the hotline.

(L-R): Dean Christopher Pietruszkiewicz, Associate Dean Stephanie Vaughan, Ashley Cease, Professor Christine Cerniglia, Ryan Hoyle, Assistant Dean John Keyser, Joann Drages Burnett, Professor Kristen Adams, Assistant Dean Tammy Briant, Brian Vandervliet, and Professor Rebecca Trammell at the home of the Disaster Research Project on Stetson's Gulfport campus.

(L-R): Dean Christopher Pietruszkiewicz, Associate Dean Stephanie Vaughan, Associate Director of the Law Library Ashley Chase, Professor Christine Cerniglia, Assistant Director for Clinical Education Ryan Hoyle, Assistant Dean John Keyser, Associate Director of Career Development Joann Grages Burnett, Professor Kristen Adams, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Tammy Briant, Assistant Director of Web Content Brian Vandervliet, and Director of the Law Library Professor Rebecca Trammell worked together to help launch the Disaster Research Project on Stetson’s Gulfport campus.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Irma and Maria, lawyers across the country and the state of Florida mobilized to provide free legal services to people struggling to rebuild their lives. The American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (YLD), The Florida Bar YLD, and FEMA launched the disaster relief hotline in September to respond to people in need of assistance with legal matters ranging from landlord-tenant and insurance disputes, to consumer fraud and employment disputes. More than 400 attorneys across the state have volunteered to date to help with more than 1400 requests for legal assistance from disaster victims.

Stetson students are helping with the relief effort while building relationships with legal practitioners. Stetson Law’s Disaster Research Project pairs law students with attorney research projects so that attorneys can maximize the number of people they can help. Stetson created a web portal that pro bono attorneys can use to request research assistance from its law students.

Stetson Law professor Christine Cerniglia, director of Clinical and Experiential Education at Stetson, began working on the concept for the Disaster Research Project with Holland & Knight attorney Anthony Palermo shortly after Hurricane Irma swept through Florida. Palermo is helping to coordinate the efforts of the Florida Bar YLD, ABA YLD and FEMA.

“Our goal is to make sure that help is available to Floridians who need legal assistance as a result of hurricanes and other disasters but cannot afford to hire an attorney,” Palermo said. “We want Florida attorneys to help ensure that the hard-working attorneys at Florida’s legal aid organizations do not get overburdened and that they have help from the rest of the bar. We are grateful for Stetson stepping up and offering to partner with volunteer attorneys.”

“Part of our profession is giving back to people in need,” said Professor Cerniglia. “With this project, our students can see how their work is having an immediate impact.”

To learn more about the Disaster Research Project at Stetson, visit http://www.stetson.edu/law/academics/disaster-research-project/.

The disaster relief hotline may be reached at 866-550-2929.