Colleagues in the US are defying the popular stereotype of the American lawyer by mobilising to provide free help for victims of the Hurricane Harvey disaster. Working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and local legal aid offices, the American Bar Association’s young lawyers division has set up helplines in Texas and Louisiana to refer people to legal advice. 

Disaster-related legal issues include landlord/tenant problems, insurance claims, FEMA claims and consumer issues such as contractor fraud. ’Lawyers are stepping up to help alleviate the human suffering and assist in navigating the bureaucratic hurdles that occur as people try to recover,’ ABA president Hilarie Bass said. 

One initiative that caught Obiter’s eye was Flood Proof, an app to help disaster victims prove that they own their home - an essential step to qualifying for emergency aid. Flood Proof was developed after a 2016 disaster in Louisiana and helps victims assemble key information and documents and then determine if they are eligible for assistance. Those eligible can use the app to file papers with the government to prove title.

Alas at the moment the app is restricted to Louisiana. This is because in the absence of a national land registration system (a deeply un-American concept) responsibility for running a register of deeds lies with more than 3,000 counties, whose duties vary widely between different states. Makes you grateful for dear old HM Land Registry.