Superstorm Sandy One Year Later: NYLAG Honors Legal Community and Elected Officials

On October 29, New York Legal Assistance Group marked the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, by hosting a Commemoration and Pro Bono Awards Reception. The event recognized the contributions of the New York legal community, and honored Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Senator Andrew Lanza for appreciating the important role of civil legal services in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.

Seth Diamond, Director of the Office of Storm Recovery (center), is shown accepting an award on behalf of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. The award coincided with the announcement of the new grant, and was presented by Abby S. Milstein, NYLAG Board Chair (left), and Yisroel Schulman, NYLAG President (right), at a Pro Bono Awards Reception on October 29, 2013, to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy.

Seth Diamond, Director of the Office of Storm Recovery (center), is shown accepting an award on behalf of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. The award coincided with the announcement of a new $5 million grant from New York State, and was presented by Abby S. Milstein, NYLAG Board Chair (left), and Yisroel Schulman, NYLAG President (right), at a Pro Bono Awards Reception on October 29, 2013, to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy.

The reception, held at the offices of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, brought together attorneys from the city’s top law firms, as well as representatives of community organizations and elected officials from New York State, New York City and Long Island.

“Collectively, those gathered here this evening, on the first anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, have enabled NYLAG to help over 5,800 storm victims, making our Storm Response Unit New York State’s major provider of legal services to Sandy victims,” said Yisroel Schulman, NYLAG’s President and Attorney-in-Charge. “While our work is far from done, much progress has been made thanks to a true collaboration across the legal community, state and city government, and a network of community-based partners.”

NYLAG’s Storm Response Unit was created in the weeks following the devastation of the storm. Today the unit has a staff of 30 full-time paid attorneys, paralegals and other staff assisted by pro bono attorneys, with specialized sub-units made up of attorneys who concentrate on different high-demand legal areas. The unit works with NYLAG’s longstanding network of community-based partners to provide legal assistance to clients in their own neighborhoods, augmented by the agency’s Mobile Legal Help Center, a legal services office and courtroom on wheels. It also has a dedicated hotline, email and web address and promotes its services widely through community outreach and social media to increase referrals.

Mr. Schulman began the evening by presenting key findings from a recently completed NYLAG survey of clients the agency has advised on Sandy-related matters over the last year. Looking ahead, Mr. Schulman cautioned that the legal needs of those affected by the storm are far from over. They have in fact escalated, requiring extended services and representation for problems that are increasingly complex and entrenched.

The evening’s awards were presented by Abby S. Milstein, Chair of NYLAG’s Board of Directors. A total of 20 law firms and nonprofit partners, and four individuals, were recognized for contributing their resources, time and talent to NYLAG’s storm response efforts.

“Our honorees have contributed to our Sandy effort in so many ways: some literally put a roof over our heads by providing NYLAG with temporary office space when our offices were flooded; others worked in devastated neighborhoods providing pro bono assistance at community centers and aboard our Mobile Legal Help Center; while others have helped to train our attorneys on new areas of the law relevant to the problems facing victims of a disaster,” said Ms. Milstein.

For a list of those honored click here.

NYLAG also recognized four individuals whom Ms. Milstein described as having gone “above and beyond” on behalf of NYLAG, and its storm clients. Individual awards were presented to: Chris Carty, an associate with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP; Sara Law, an attorney and strategic advisor; Michael Lustig, an advisor with UJA-Federation of New York’s Management Assistance Program; and Cathy Sullivan, an attorney specializing in elder law.

Ms. Milstein concluded the ceremony by recognizing the support and contributions of Senator Lanza and Governor Cuomo, both of whom have taken decisive steps to ensure that New Yorkers receive the legal support they need to rebuild their lives, and to implement new systems and policies that can prepare New York to respond more effectively in future disasters.

Senator Lanza’s own district on the south shore of Staten Island was among the communities most severely impacted by the storm. The Senator and his staff helped to provide access to NYLAG attorneys at several Staten Island community centers, and collaborated with NYLAG to bring our Mobile Legal Help Center to the borough on a regular basis.

“Senator Lanza not only helped mobilize our efforts on Staten Island,” said Ms. Milstein. “He has also played a key role at the state level, co-chairing a State Senate task force on Superstorm Sandy to identify steps that can make us more resilient in the event of another natural disaster. On behalf of everyone at NYLAG – and the clients we serve, I thank the Senator for all that he has done.”

Ms. Milstein praised Governor Cuomo for his prominent and vocal advocacy for the needs of storm victims, citing his successful partnership with the federal government to negotiate funding for a variety of recovery assistance programs, streamlining the insurance claims process, and introducing a mortgage relief program to protect victims from large spikes in their mortgage payments. She also announced, for the first time, a new $5 million grant from New York State that will allow NYLAG’s storm relief efforts to continue for the next two years.

“Governor Cuomo has been a preeminent leader in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, ensuring that the plight of storm victims is not forgotten even though flood waters long ago receded. He is among the growing number of political officials who have come to recognize the key role legal services can and should play following a disaster,” said Ms.  Milstein. “NYLAG is grateful for his support, and proud of the trust he has placed in NYLAG to help protect the rights of storm victims so Sandy-related issues can be resolved fairly, and New Yorkers can return to their normal lives.”

For photos of the event, visit http://www.facebook.com/NYLegalAssistanceGroup.