| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Nov 9 As thousands of New Yorkers
struggle to recover from Superstorm Sandy, three major legal aid
providers seeking to help victims have been hampered by their
own storm-related damage.
Legal Services NYC, the New York Legal Assistance Group and
the Legal Aid Society were shut out of their downtown offices
when Sandy struck last week and have been operating out of
satellite offices or space borrowed from other non-profit groups
and large law firms.
The organizations provide a variety of civil legal services
to low-income residents, ranging from obtaining orders of
protection for domestic violence victims to drafting living
wills and appointing healthcare proxies.
Legal Services lost power at two of its downtown locations,
including the central office on Worth Street, where its
telephone network and email and data servers are located.
The approximately 75 staff members affected by the outage
were able to relocate to Legal Service's Harlem location, travel
to outreach clinics and assemble disaster relief manuals for
But the entire organization was without access to phone,
email or electronic records for three days, said Raun Rasmussen,
Legal Services' executive director. Those challenges were
compounded by limited transportation and access to documents,
which made it difficult to coordinate court appearances and
contact some clients, Rasmussen said.
The headquarters of New York Legal Assistance Group, at 7
Hanover Square, were flooded in the storm and will be closed for
about six weeks, according to the group's president and
attorney-in-charge, Yishoel Schulman.
The organization's 200 lawyers have scattered to spaces in
11 law firms across the city, and the executive staff is using
the United Jewish Appeal Federation offices as a base, Schulman
NYLAG lawyers and paralegals have been offering legal
services via a citywide hotline and through Federal Emergency
Management Agency centers around the city, said Schulman, who
estimates his employees have counseled over 1,000 people since
"I don't think in my career I've ever experienced such an
intense, immediate need for free legal assistance," he said.
Yet communications difficulties persist. Without phones and
Internet, the organization has found it difficult to publicize
its services, including its Mobile Legal Help Center, a van
equipped with private meeting spaces that travels the five
boroughs, Schulman said.
Legal Aid has faced similar challenges. The organization,
part of a nationwide network, had to redeploy a third of its
1,700 lawyers after its downtown headquarters were flooded and
three additional lower Manhattan offices lost power, said
Attorney-in-Chief Steven Banks.
The group continues to have intermittent phone and Internet
access, Banks said, and employees are working out of Legal Aid's
other 21 offices in the city.
Since Wednesday of last week, the organization has been
representing clients in courts in all five boroughs, Banks said.
Its staff has traveled to New York City Housing Authority
developments in Far Rockaway in Queens, Coney Island and Red
Hook in Brooklyn and to various neighborhoods in Staten Island.
The staff has handled applications for emergency food
stamps, disaster unemployment assistance and FEMA aid, in
addition to helping residents who needed food, hot water and
electricity. Legal Aid also has a van that it has been trying to
take to hard-hit neighborhoods to offer legal services, but the
service was temporarily suspended because of the gasoline
(Reporting by Peter Rudegeair; additional reporting by Joseph
Ax; editing by Eileen Daspin and Jim Marshall)