STCL Houston Alumni Comprise Nearly 20 Percent of Newly Launched Disaster Recovery Legal Corps
Equal Justice Works, the leading nonprofit organization committed to mobilizing the next generation of public interest attorneys, recently announced the launch of the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps – comprised of 23 lawyers hand-selected by the nonprofit from among 200 applicants – to deliver legal and recovery assistance to individuals affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.
Four of the 23 attorneys – nearly 20 percent – who were selected to participate in this important work are graduates of South Texas College of Law Houston (STCL Houston).
Disaster Recovery Legal Corps will place lawyers in Texas and Florida, where they will work with established nonprofit legal services organizations to serve the highest-need communities in disaster-affected areas. Fellows will provide legal assistance on issues related to housing, employment, homeowners’/flood insurance, public benefits, and other disaster-related legal issues. Additionally, Fellows will expand the capacity of nonprofit legal services organizations to ensure that all residents have access to the legal services they need to stabilize and rebuild their lives.
“In the aftermath of hurricanes and other natural disasters, there is a pressing need for lawyers, as individuals are left to deal with a host of legal issues,” said Sara Morello, executive vice president at Equal Justice Works. “We are proud that the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps will ensure the availability of lawyers with the expertise and skills necessary to serve communities ravaged by these hurricanes.”
Earlier this month, the Fellows attended a three-day training at Houston law firm DLA Piper to prepare for their two-year terms of service with the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps. During this intensive workshop, participating attorneys received in-depth substantive and skills-based training to equip them with the tools they need to assist with disaster recovery.
STCL Houston alumni selected as Equal Justice Works Disaster Recovery Legal Corps Fellows include:
- Maricarmen Dollar ’97:
Dollar will assist Hurricane Harvey survivors with legal issues, including title clearing, contractor disputes, insurance coverage disputes, FEMA appeals, assistance with mortgage forbearance and foreclosure matters, evictions and other landlord/tenant issues, while hosted at Houston Volunteer Lawyers.“I am committed to pursuing a career with a primary focus of helping others,” said Dollar. “I am aware that there are many individuals in our community who cannot afford legal services and many times, are not even aware that they have a legal issue. If I can use my legal skills and education to change that, I will.”
- Roberto Flores ’13:
Flores will be hosted at YMCA International Services, where he will provide services before the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Board of Immigration Appeals, and Executive Office of Immigration Review for those recovering from Hurricane Harvey.“I am a native of Houston and have seen the city hit by many natural disasters,” said Flores. “I come from an immigrant family and understand how valuable legal assistance can be to someone who does not know where to go for legal help. I have been working in the immigration field for almost four years and have been able to help the immigrants with different services and hope to continue that work for many more years.”
- Meghan Smolensky ’17:
Smolensky will serve at Lone Star Legal Aid, where she will help those affected by Hurricane Harvey, including assisting with landlord/tenant issues, insurance claims, and FEMA-related appeals.“I pride myself on the ability to assist those who are not familiar with the legal system, and I try to put their insecurities at ease,” said Smolensky. “I am aware of how the hurricane affected people’s belongings, but also their mental states. To be able to help those who might feel helpless is why I wanted to join this program.”
- Maria Vazquez ’17:
Vazquez will serve at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, where she will provide legal assistance in immigration matters to low-income individuals directly affected by Hurricane Harvey.“I have a passion for serving the community,” said Vazquez. “I assisted in the representation of immigrant families in the Immigration Clinic and the Asylum and Human Trafficking Clinic as a student at South Texas College of Law Houston. I come from an immigrant family and I understand the fear and struggle of the immigrant community.”
Equal Justice Works will draw on years of experience in bringing together talented lawyers who can deliver critical legal assistance to individuals following a disaster. Since 2005, the organization has mobilized 45 disaster recovery Fellows to provide legal aid to individuals affected by crises, including tornadoes in Joplin, Mo., and Norman, Okla.; Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ike; Superstorm Sandy in New York; the BP oil spill in the Gulf; and flooding in both Texas and Louisiana.
Disaster Recovery Legal Corps received philanthropic support from the Bigglesworth Family Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, The Florida Bar Foundation, Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, and Texas Access to Justice Foundation.
Over the past three decades, Equal Justice Works has awarded more than 2,000 Fellowships to public interest lawyers committed to building a more just society. Roughly 85 percent of Fellows continue to serve the public interest beyond their Fellowships.
To learn more about the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps Fellows, please visit the Equal Justice Works website.