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Hurricane Response Earns ABA Honor

Hurricane Response Earns ABA Honor

From left, Rachel Blunk, Brooks Jaffa and Cabell Clay display Award of Achievement notification letter.

NEW YORK CITY – The Young Lawyers Division of the North Carolina Bar Association has received national recognition for its exemplary efforts to assist the victims of Hurricane Matthew.

The YLD’s Hurricane Matthew Disaster Legal Services Project has been selected by the Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association as the 2016-17 recipient of the ABA YLD Award of Achievement for Service to the Public.

Notification was announced in New York City on Friday, Aug. 11, at the ABA YLD Assembly, an event coinciding with the ABA Annual Meeting. The NCBA YLD was recognized among state bar organizations in Division B (3,000 to 8,000 young lawyers).

The effort to provide free legal assistance to victims was initiated immediately after Hurricane Matthew wreaked havoc on Eastern North Carolina last October. Nearly half of North Carolina’s 100 counties qualified for federal assistance, including virtually every county east of I-95.

The NCBA YLD, with financial support from the North Carolina Bar Foundation Endowment, partnered with Legal Aid of North Carolina, the ABA and FEMA to activate the Disaster Legal Services hotline. Nearly 300 people were assisted through the hotline and dozens more took advantage of clinics held in Robeson County, which was perhaps the hardest hit of any N.C. county.

The hotline remained open and responsive through February, thanks to the efforts of more than 200 volunteer attorneys of all ages and N.C. Bar Center staff. Many of the matters that required legal assistance involved insurance coverage, property damage issues and landlord-tenant issues.

The collective positive force of the NCBA and the NCBF was spearheaded by three members of the Young Lawyers Division: Brooks Jaffa, who was serving as the ABA YLD District 9 representative; Rachel Blunk, who was serving as secretary of the YLD and is now its chair-elect, and then-Administrative Division Director Cabell Clay who is now serving as YLD secretary.

All three, who were recognized individually for their efforts at the recent NCBA Annual Meeting as recipients of the Younger Lawyer Pro Bono Award, were thrilled to learn of this latest honor, especially because it recognizes the entire organization and all who volunteered, and does so at the national level.

“With over 150,000 members and 300 affiliated groups, such as the NCBA YLD, the ABA YLD is the largest young lawyer organization in the world,” said Clay. “It is an incredible honor to be recognized by the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division for our Hurricane Matthew Disaster Legal Services Project.

“As attorneys, we are uniquely situated to help the most vulnerable members of our communities. I feel so fortunate to be a YLD leader in a bar association that not only prioritizes and values pro bono and public service efforts but provides young lawyers so many opportunities to serve the public.”

Those opportunities, Jaffa added, are especially rewarding when lawyers come together in times of crisis.

“As attorneys we occupy a position of privilege and possess a unique set of skills,” Jaffa said. “We have the responsibility to use these gifts to assist those in need. Working with the NCBA, including the NCBA YLD, and the ABA YLD has afforded me many opportunities not only to give back but to collaborate with others in these efforts, including responding to Hurricane Matthew.   

“This award recognizes all of the extraordinary contributions of those who participated in this project. In the wake of Hurricane Matthew many attorneys from across North Carolina graciously volunteered their time, energy, and expertise to assist victims with what in many instances was their most challenging obstacle to recovering from the hurricane. I am humbled by the dedication demonstrated by so many.”

The ABA YLD Award of Achievement for Service to the Public, in many ways, underscores sentiments previously expressed by Blunk, who was both proud and grateful for the reaction their volunteer efforts received.

“I am so proud of the NCBA’s response to Hurricane Matthew,” Blunk stated. “From preventing evictions, to securing FEMA benefits that were initially denied, or helping to sort out insurance claims, our volunteer attorneys readily stepped in to help survivors begin to rebuild their lives.

“To all who volunteered, please accept my sincere thanks!”

Thank you indeed, and congratulations.