As enthusiastic and accomplished as volunteers may be, most of them lack the expertise they need to handle the legal challenges that disaster survivors face. That’s why it’s critical to train attorneys and other legal professionals in providing disaster-related legal services.
The following important guidelines are based on lessons learned from prior disasters:
- Train early. The period immediately after a disaster can be chaotic and stressful. That’s not an ideal time to undergo training. It’s much better to have people who are already prepared to identify, prioritize, and respond to the most common legal issues.
- Train often. In some areas, the timing of likely disasters is predictable, as during hurricane season. Provide frequent training or retraining to keep information fresh in trainees’ minds and to account for any recent changes in laws or policies.
- Customize training for your region. State laws on disaster-related issues vary significantly. In your training, include both federal and state laws and any other laws, policies, and practices.
- Include materials on lessons learned and frequently asked questions. These are effective for conveying knowledge gained from work on previous disasters. They are also easy to scan and refer to when demands are high and time is short.
- Make training and training materials accessible. That includes making them conducive to different learning styles, such as visual or auditory, and accessible to people with visual or hearing impairments. Also consider using technology to broaden opportunities to receive training.
- Pair trainees with client assignments immediately after their training. This gives trainees a chance to use their newly acquired skills while the information is fresh in their minds, which reinforces what they have learned and the value of their volunteerism to people in the community.
- As appropriate for your area, cover niche issues and specific populations. Examples include laws related to mobile home ownership or leasing, and property issues involving Native American land.
- Be sure to cover general topics, including how to identify legal issues, which issues to prioritize, and special considerations for clients with low incomes and those with limited English proficiency.