The Pro Bono Project in New Orleans

Kevin Baum and Ricardo Alvarado [University of Pittsburgh School of Law 3L and 1L, in New Orleans]: "The Pro Bono Project's (PBP) mission is to provide free quality civil legal services to the poor by engaging volunteer attorneys to provide pro bono legal services. The Pro Bono Project has also expanded services to include some direct legal assistance.

Kevin and I along with two Loyola Chicago law students and about 20 Georgetown law students were assigned to the project to provide legal assistance to clients affected by the Katrina disaster.

On Monday, March 6th 2006 at about 9am we walked into the offices of the Pro Bono Project in New Orleans. We were met by a bubbly yet stern lady, Ellen Barrett Artopoeus, the PBP Staff Attorney. She quickly handed each of us a case file and had us get right to work. We were all assigned succession cases…of course all the students coming from the northeast had no idea what that was. Apparently, succession is the civil law version of a probate and is necessary to get title from a deceased parent to their heirs. Many of our clients lived in or took care of their parent's home after their parent's death, however they never transferred title to the property in their own name. Both FEMA and insurance companies will only provide funds to the title holder, therefore it was our job to wade through often many layers of heirs to try to put our clients in the position to receive funds as owners.

We had the opportunity to interview clients and even intake new clients. Interviewing was a particularly difficult task since many clients had been displaced since Katrina and tracking them down to their new homes was an issue. Phone numbers had been disconnected, or were often changed, but by the end of the week most, if not all, of us had made contact with our clients. We also searched the remnants of county records for information pertinent to our cases, however we had a difficult time since many of the records were either destroyed by the flooding or relocated to different parts of the city and Baton Rouge, LA.

However, we did have some success with the files, a few cases were closed, but more importantly we put a large dent in the succession case load. Hopefully we have put the PBP on a good enough footing to be able to close the rest of the files by next week when the UNC Law students arrive.

The rest of the trip apart from work has been a big success. Although many businesses are still closed and the city is rebuilding, we've been able to eat, drink, and enjoy the culture of New Orleans. There's definitely a feeling that they will rebuild, and there is optimism about having this city return as the jewel of the south. However, there is an equal fear that the rest of the country may be forgetting about them, especially the Federal Government. There is much work to be done and we are grateful that we had the opportunity to extend a helping hand and hope to be back in a short time and see the whole city get back on its feet."

 

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