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Look For The Helpers: The Role of Lawyers When Disaster Strikes

Today is the 16th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. While we take a moment to remember the victims and heroes of that day, we also confront a nation presently struggling to recover from hurricanes, massive wildfires, and other natural disasters. In these times of uncertainty and adversity in nature and national security, what role do lawyers serve in repairing and restoring our communities when disaster strikes?

When Opposing Party is Mother Nature

When it comes to disaster relief, images of Red Cross volunteers, National Guard units delivering food and other supplies, and FEMA likely come to mind. Lawyers may be the last people we think of as helpers in the midst of devastating events.

In the aftermath of tragedy, civil legal aid attorneys help victims reclaim stability and normalcy by shepherding them through the legal morass of housing issues, replacing legal identification papers, making insurance claims, applying for disaster benefits, combating contractor scams, and other civil issues that arise from the chaos.

It is no surprise that low-income people are more affected by and suffer the greatest long-term consequences as a result of disasters. This is work that often continues long after the storm debris has been cleared away.  In fact, 12 years after Hurricane Katrina people still need help clearing titles, litigating tax liens, and bringing forth contractor fraud litigation. 

An article examining the work of legal aid lawyers in New Orleans after Katrina noted that generally, civil legal aid agencies were unable to handle between 66 and 80 percent of calls for assistance. Martha Bergmark, executive director of Voices for Civil Justice, a national organization working to raise awareness of civil legal aid, notes that the first time civil legal aid ever received federal disaster funding was in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, when it was given just $1 million. 

As a result, we cannot place the burden on legal aid alone to meet the enormous need for post-disaster legal assistance. As a profession we must do better to ensure that we can meet the myriad short- and long-term legal needs of the vulnerable people who are disproportionately affected by extreme weather events.

Colorado Has A Plan

Colorado's own catastrophic weather event occurred four years ago this week when eight people were killed and 20,000 homes were destroyed in the 2013 Colorado Front Range Flood. In the wake of this unprecedented event, Colorado's legal community came together to identify legal service gaps and provide access to legal services to the most vulnerable Coloradans.  Even before the rain started to fall, Colorado had worked with the ABA Young Lawyers Division’s Disaster Legal Services (DLS) to create a Colorado Disaster Legal Response Manual.
FEMA provides disaster legal services in conjunction with state and local bar associations, through a Memorandum of Understanding entered into with the ABA YLD. Once President Obama declared certain flooded portions of Colorado to be a natural disaster, the ABA YLD was charged with setting up a helpline within forty-eight hours.

On September 17, 2013, after a flurry of calls and e-mail exchanges, a group of bar leaders, along with attorneys and staff from several legal associations, conducted a conference call on how the CBA could participate in assisting flood victims. Representatives from CLS, the Colorado Legal Aid Foundation, the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association, the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, the Association of Corporate Counsel, Metro Volunteer Lawyers, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, Colorado Spanish-Speaking Lawyers, CBA sections and committees, and many local bar associations developed a concentrated relief effort.

The result was a robust website and helpline which connected victims with volunteer attorneys who specialized in the area of law in which they needed legal assistance. The website and helpline served nearly 500 victims in its first three months of operation. In total, 350 Colorado lawyers answered the call to serve as task force members, volunteer attorneys, and organizers of this relief effort.

Look For The Helpers

In these times of uncertainty I am reminded of the words of Fred Rogers. Fred often told the story of when he was a child and would see scary things on the news: “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

Lawyers may not be traditional first responders, but we can be the helpers. Colorado lawyers have led the charge in responding to past disasters. We can continue to be leaders in response to the current devastating events. We have an opportunity to show the nation that Colorado lawyers will heed the call when disaster strikes.

Visit the ABA's Disaster Legal Services page to assist the ABA with ongoing Disaster Legal Services. Support Texas and Florida legal aid lawyers with your time and financial support at and

Take this opportunity to evaluate your goals and commitment to pro bono legal services. Incorporate the role of lawyers as disaster first responders and helpers in your mentoring relationships. Remember that we each have the power to make a difference in times of uncertainty.


J. Ryann Peyton, Esq. LLM
Director, Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program

Upcoming Events

CAMP offers monthly training sessions for our software platform. Join us if you have specific questions or if you are interested in learning how to maximize your mentoring relationship through technology. Webinars are held the 3rd Tuesday of each month from 12:00 to 1:00.

Webinars can be accessed at the following link: 
You can also dial in using your phone. 
+1 (224) 501-3412 

Access Code: 849-618-117 

Can't attend? Schedule a private training.

El Paso County Bar Association
Solo/Small Firm Section

"Earning Your Lawyer Badge: Professional Identity for the Modern Lawyer"

October 4, 2017 at 12:00 pm

Jack Quinn Irish Pub (upstairs meeting room)
21 S. Tejon St. Colorado Springs, CO 80903

ABA Young Lawyers Division Annual Conference

October 5-7, 2017

Denver, Colorado

Register Here


To be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer. Sadly, our profession is falling short when it comes to well-being. Research reveals that too many lawyers and law students experience chronic stress and high rates of depression and substance use. These findings are incompatible with a sustainable legal profession, and they raise troubling implications for many lawyers’ basic competence. 

The legal profession is already struggling. Our profession confronts a dwindling market share as the public turns to more accessible, affordable alternative legal service providers. We are at a crossroads. To maintain public confidence in the profession, to meet the need for innovation in how we deliver legal services, to increase access to justice, and to reduce the level of toxicity that has allowed mental health and substance use disorders to fester among our colleagues, we have to act now. Change will require a wide-eyed and candid assessment of our members’ state of being, accompanied by courageous commitment to re-envisioning what it means to live the life of a lawyer.

The new Report from the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being provides practical recommendations for improving lawyer well-being and the profession overall. Several Colorado stakeholders were involved in this report, including Colorado Regulation Counsel Jim Coyle.

To review the report, click the image above.
Colorado's New Lawyer Self-Assessment Program

Colorado has a new lawyer self-assessment program designed to help lawyers better serve clients and simplify their professional lives. The self-assessments ask lawyers whether they have the ethical infrastructure to address common practice risks. If the lawyers do not, the self-assessments identify certain Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct and educational resources in the form of formal ethics opinions, bar journal articles, and manuals published by the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, to give specific guidance on these risks.

Ultimately, these self-assessments should help attorneys avoid grievances and alleviate some of the stress associated with practice, especially for solo and small firm practitioners and those new to practice. 

Below is the link to the consolidated self-assessment with all ten individual self-assessments. You can view this on your computer or download and print the document. 

Consolidated Colorado Self-Assessment Form (draft)

For more information on the program, please contact Jonathan White, staff attorney, Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, at 303-928-7919 or

How to Deal with Discord
As Joseph Conrad said, “Facing it, always facing it, that’s the way to get through. Face it.”  Life, at times, can be full of stress producing conflict and discomfort.  Whether the source is another person, an entity, or within ourselves, the best way to deal with discord is to face it.  That might mean having an uncomfortable conversation, taking a deep dive within ourselves to examine what is going on, or simply being present in the moment while something is happening rather than being passive-aggressive.  This upcoming week, see the difference “facing it” can make in reducing your stress!

For more information or for confidential assistance, please contact COLAP at 303.986.3345 or visit

If you are new to practice in Colorado, CAMP has compiled all of the resources you need to successfully transition into practice. Check out our "Lawyers New to Colorado" page for more information on practice resources, professionalism, community leadership and engagement, and lawyer wellness in Colorado.

Welcome to Colorful Colorado! We look forward to supporting you throughout your legal career!

Copyright © 2017 Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program, All rights reserved.

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