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_ Focuses on Disaster Preparedness: Planning for Unpredictability

CHICAGO, Feb. 1, 2011 — With two dozen states in the line of a fierce winter storm swirling from the southern plains to the New England coast, leaders at the _ continue to focus on disaster planning to position the organization, the legal profession and the public for stability in uncertain times.

ABA President Stephen N. Zack tasked the ABA’s Special Committee on Disaster Response and Preparedness to design internal and external disaster preparedness protocols to deal with everything from network interruptions within the association to massive disasters that result in chaos and the inability for lawyers, courts and clients to communicate.

“Katrina was a warning shot across the bow,” said Zack.  “As the largest voluntary professional organization, the ABA must lead by example and make decisions now, so that if the president of the United States calls for a suspension of certain laws in times of crisis, we are ready; or if lawyers and clients in one state need the help of lawyers in another, we have a mechanism to help already in place,” he continued.

After Hurricane Katrina, the Mississippi and Louisiana Supreme Courts adopted special rules to allow out-of-state lawyers to temporarily practice in those states to provide assistance to victims of the disaster.  Not long after, the ABA passed a resolution—often called the Katrina Rule— which an individual state’s highest court can adopt in times of disaster, enabling out-of-state lawyers to provide free legal services in another state.

So far, nine U.S. jurisdictions (Ariz., Del., Iowa, Minn., Mo., N.J., Ore., Tenn. and Wash.) have adopted a version of this model court rule.  Twenty more are considering adoption.

Louisiana lawyer David Bienvenu, who chairs the special committee, lived through Katrina.

“The ABA just completed an internal table-top planning exercise to ensure that the association is prepared to serve its members in times of disaster,” said Bienvenu.  “We will use the results of this exercise to move forward with a new certification process approved by the Department of Homeland Security. We can’t ignore the unpredictability of life and nature,” he added.

The ABA’s Special Committee on Disaster Response and Preparedness continues the push for readiness during calamity.  A program at the ABA’s Midyear Meeting in Atlanta, Feb. 12, at 2 p.m. features  a panel of experts who will speak about the “Role of Law and the Courts in Public Health Emergency Response.”

With nearly 400,000 members, the _ is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world.  As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.

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