Instead, Servicios Legales stepped in as the main point of contact for FEMA, with servicios lawyers setting up in FEMA’s emergency centers across the island to help residents apply for aid. The Legal Services Corporation-funded organization directed its funds toward equipping its lawyers with cellphones and laptops so they could work remotely at plazas and civic spaces across the island.
At the same time, a largely island-based grassroots coalition — Ayuda Legal Huracán María — formed and stepped in to help provide pro bono help.
“We wanted to make sure the response really came from Puerto Rico and not from abroad. In order for it to be a sustainable model, it really had to be Puerto Rican lawyers here who could respond to not only this hurricane but future hurricane disasters,” said Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, which was part of the coalition.
Servicios Legales Director Hadassa Santini Colberg said the organization lost four attorneys after the storm but has been able to staff up since then and serve the public’s need with the help of private attorneys doing pro bono work. She is more worried about ongoing funding for the organization. Although most of its budget comes from the Legal Services Corporation, 25 percent is allocated by the cash-strapped Puerto Rican government, which cut $540,000 to the Servicios Legales budget in 2017 and an additional $250,000 in 2018.
The above is an excerpt from an article that was published on Law 360 and you can read the full article here.