Volunteer Opportunities and Training

Improve the lives of low-income disaster survivors by providing free legal advice and assistance. Discover the types of help they need, how to get started, and how to prepare so you can maximize your impact.

Page last updated: 04/28/2023


As a practicing attorney, you can make a difference in the lives of thousands of low-income individuals and families by providing pro bono assistance to help them recover from a disaster. We’ll show you how to:

  • Get started right now.
  • Bolster your knowledge or gain new expertise so you can help survivors even more.
  • Help people in other states.
  • Familiarize yourself with common disaster-related civil legal issues.

How To Volunteer

Legal aid organizations can always use more volunteers. By providing free legal assistance and other disaster-related services, you can make a real difference for people with low incomes who are trying to recover after a disaster.

Many organizations welcome or facilitate pro bono and volunteer participation in local jurisdictions across the country. Here are some good places to start:

How To Get Training

To provide the most effective help to disaster survivors, volunteers need expertise in handling the specific legal aid-related challenges these survivors are likely to face.

Start getting up to speed by looking carefully through the content and linked information on the Legal Aid Disaster Resource Center’s Disaster Bootcamp webpage.

Watch this Legal Services of North Florida series of videos, in which subject matter experts provide foundational information on disaster-related legal issues.

Other videos in the series provide information on:

Seek out additional training beyond this baseline, especially localized training that focuses on laws and circumstances in your region, state, or territory. Here are some ways to find it:

  • Contact the Legal Services Corporation grantees in your area, state, or territory. These grantees are often your best source for finding trainings on disaster-related issues that involve state, territory, and local laws.
  • Ask the organization you volunteered with or any of the other organizations listed in the How To Volunteer section above.
  • Check back on this page for newly added training resources.

How To Help in Other States

You can provide pro bono assistance to disaster survivors in another state if that state has adopted the Katrina Rule.

The Katrina Rule is formally known as the ABA Model Court Rule on Provision of Legal Services Following Determination of Major Disaster. This rule allows out-of-state attorneys to provide pro bono legal services in the affected jurisdiction. The rule applies only in states that adopt it and goes into effect only if there is a presidentially declared disaster. The out-of-state attorneys must be under the supervision of civil legal aid or pro bono programs.

The Katrina Rule also allows attorneys whose practices have been hindered by a declared emergency to temporarily practice in an unaffected jurisdiction.

Advocate for the Katrina Rule in Your State

Many — but not all — states have adopted the Katrina Rule or similar procedures since the rule’s establishment in 2007. If your home state is not an adopter, work with your state bar to help pass the rule. This legislation helps provide disaster survivors with equal access to justice after a disaster.

Eighteen states have adopted the Katrina Rule (as of November 2020):

  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Louisiana
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

These states have not adopted the Katrina Rule but have authorized similar procedures (as of November 2020):

  • Connecticut
  • Idaho
  • Mississippi
  • North Carolina
  • Oregon
  • Texas
  • Utah

Disaster-related legal aid encompasses a wide range of legal areas, with varying degrees of complexity, that are crucial for addressing the needs of low-income individuals affected by disasters. Survivors may need this assistance immediately after a disaster — or even months or years later as they continue to experience repercussions.

You are not expected to be an expert in every area of disaster law, but it will help to be aware of the issues that may arise. Don’t feel limited. As a volunteer attorney, you can receive training on federal, state, or tribal law so that you can be effective in the specific pro bono role for which you have volunteered.

Disasters can cause income loss, increase repair costs, and result in other financial strains that make paying bills and keeping up with mortgage or rental payments more difficult for low-income individuals and families. You can help survivors evaluate their options. If they decide to file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, they will need help with their case.

See the Bankruptcy page to learn more.

Disaster survivors can experience various types of discrimination during and after a disaster, including disproportionate access to shelter, recovery resources, employment, or educational opportunities.

Individuals with disabilities face unique challenges. They are disparately affected by inequitable opportunities, negligent emergency preparedness, and failure of local and state governments to prohibit discriminatory conduct.

See the Disability Rights page to learn more.

After a disaster, survivors can become desperate for repairs and supplies. Some contractors and businesses take advantage of this need and urgency. Survivors may need legal help to resolve issues such as home repair contractor disputes and fraud or price gouging by businesses.

See the Housing Issues After a Disaster page to learn more.

Depending on a disaster’s severity, uninterrupted access to education for children can be hampered after the disaster. Parents and guardians may have difficulty enrolling their children in a different school if they had to temporarily move to a new location within a different school boundary or district. Parents who have children with disabilities may face challenges getting the new school to implement their child’s individualized education program (IEP) or Section 504 plan.

See the Family Law page to learn more.

Many employment issues can arise after a disaster, such as:

  • Disability claims.
  • Discrimination.
  • Unemployment claims, including claims that may become actionable in court.
  • Wage theft.
  • Wrongful termination.

See the Disaster Unemployment Assistance page to learn more.

Family law issues are common after a disaster, which can change living arrangements, exacerbate financial hardships, and increase stress. Severe injuries and deaths also can lead to legal issues. Clients may need help with:

  • Replacement of important legal documents.
  • Adoption.
  • Alimony adjustment or enforcement.
  • Child custody arrangement adjustment or enforcement.
  • Child support payment adjustment or enforcement.
  • Divorce agreements.
  • Domestic violence and protective orders.
  • Guardianship arrangements.
  • Power of attorney.

See the Family Law page to learn more.

Most immediately after a disaster, survivors often need help accessing all the state and federal disaster assistance that may be available to them. This includes filing applications for obtaining FEMA aid — and appeals if FEMA rejects all or part of their application.

See the FEMA 101 for Legal Aid Professionals page to learn more.

Disaster-related damage, income loss, and lender or landlord actions can contribute to numerous needs and issues, including:

  • Early lease terminations or rent withholding.
  • Evictions.
  • Home foreclosures and mortgage payment forbearance.
  • Landlord refusal to make repairs.
  • Proof of home ownership or rental unit occupancy.
  • Rent subsidy and housing programs, including Section 8 portability.
  • Security deposit disputes.
  • Utility shut-offs.

See the Housing Issues After a Disaster page to learn more.

Obtaining fair payments for damage is especially critical for low-income survivors, who may need help with insurance claims and appeals. This can involve claims for damage to real property as well as loss of or damage to personal property.

See the Insurance for Disasters page to learn more.


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