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Law students to provide legal assistance to Puerto Rico

Homes lay in ruin as seen from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Operations Black Hawk during a flyover of Puerto Rico on Sept. 23 after Hurricane Maria. The UB law school clinic will help Puerto Ricans in need of legal asistance in the wake of the devastating hurricane. Photo: Kris Grogan, U.S. Customs and Border Protection

By LISA M. MUELLER

Published November 3, 2017

“Puerto Rico is facing not just a natural disaster, but a legal disaster.”
Kim Diana Connolly, director, Clinical Legal Education Program
School of Law

The School of Law has launched a new law clinic in response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, which has left thousands of Puerto Ricans in critical need of legal assistance.

Through the Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic, a group of specially trained UB law students will learn relevant law in Buffalo and then travel to Puerto Rico in January to offer hands-on legal assistance, providing direct access to justice for those in urgent need.

“Puerto Rico is facing not just a natural disaster, but a legal disaster,” says Kim Diana Connolly, professor and vice dean for advocacy and experiential education, and director of the law school’s Clinical Legal Education Program. “As electricity and other basics come online in the coming weeks and months, the demand for legal assistance will become paramount.

“The immediate needs are vast, and we are still working with local experts to identify the best projects for UB law students to handle,” Connolly says. “We know the pressing needs range from direct legal representation of individuals and families to supporting those working within the Puerto Rican legal system trying to help citizens best navigate this tragedy.”

Participating students will receive more than two weeks of intensive training by law school faculty, alumni and other legal experts, including attorneys in Puerto Rico. They will identify the most urgent legal needs that residents and local government agencies are currently facing. Students will acquire the skills and substantive knowledge required to address legal aspects of disaster response. Connolly will coordinate the program and classes will take place at the law school.

After the classroom component is completed, students will have an opportunity to travel to Puerto Rico for a 10-day service experience, providing essential legal assistance as supervised student attorneys. In addition to earning academic credit for their participation, students will learn practical skills and firsthand experience applying the rule of law to restore order and justice in an unsettled context.

Luis Chiesa, a criminal law professor at the law school and a native of Puerto Rico, will act as an academic consultant.

“It is heartening to know that a group of UB law clinic students will head to my hometown of Puerto Rico to deliver sorely needed legal services,” says Chiesa. “This will not only benefit Puerto Rico, but also our students, as it affords them the opportunity to apply the legal skills that they have honed during the course of their legal studies.”

The greater UB School of Law community also will participate: Alumni and faculty have volunteered to consult long distance in their areas of expertise to support law students serving clients in Puerto Rico.

“Access to justice is at the heart of everything we do at the law school and this initiative is a perfect example,” says Dean Aviva Abramovsky. “We have a long history of providing pro bono service and teaching our students to view the world with compassion, knowing that regardless of where they ultimately choose to work, they have a moral responsibility, as lawyers and as leaders, to use their skills and knowledge to ensure justice and to give back.”

Donations to help offset the cost of sending law students to provide on-the-ground assistance can be made online. For more information, contact the law school’s clinic at 716-645-2167 or law-clinic@buffalo.edu.

READER COMMENT

This is an admirable program. Thanks for taking it on.

 

Jerome O'Connor