Pepperdine University offers free legal services to residents affected by disasters • The Malibu Times

Program helps residents facing challenges with FEMA, landlords, insurance and other issues

The Disaster Relief Clinic at Pepperdine Caruso Law School continues its work this semester providing pro bono legal services to those affected by the Woolsey Fire and the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as other natural disasters across the United States. United.

Pepperdine’s free service handles a wide range of disaster-related legal issues, including: landlord-tenant relationships; insurance matters; Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) appeals; labor law, including pandemic unemployment assistance, sick leave, unemployment, and family and medical leave law; housing law, including moratorium, non-payment of rent, default evictions and harassment by landlords; and small business law, including employment, insurance, and small business lending.

“We don’t litigate, but we do advocate for people having trouble with their insurance and FEMA claims,” ​​said Sophia Hamilton, director of the Disaster Relief Clinic and adjunct professor of law at Pepperdine University, in an interview. telephone. “We saw a lot of people in Malibu who were underinsured after the Woolsey fire, and helped them write a letter and helped them understand what they should be entitled to under the law. It’s complicated and people needed advocacy.

Pepperdine has had about 150 cases needing help with FEMA claims in the past few years alone — not just in Malibu but elsewhere.

“We help people understand why they haven’t received any payment from FEMA,” Hamilton continued. “Maybe it’s just a small thing; but we help to make the arguments, and we see what is lacking in their application. They may just need help proving they have title or locating certain tax records.

Due to the pandemic, some Malibu tenants were worried about the possibility of eviction due to non-payment of rent, but less than Hamilton expected.

“We’ve seen more people worry than actual evictions,” she said. “It wasn’t as big an issue as we thought, and we helped people communicate with their owners.”

The Pepperdine Caruso School of Law established its free disaster recovery legal services in 2017 after the Thomas Fire and Hurricane Harvey in Texas. The school was then able to use this experience to help residents of Malibu, the Santa Monica Mountains and Conejo Valley areas after the 2018 Woolsey Fire.

Pepperdine’s free legal services are provided by supervised second- and third-year law students. The Disaster Relief Clinic is an elective course.

“It operates like an in-house law firm,” Hamilton explained. “Law students have to register, we teach them the law they need to know, and then they can accept clients. This semester, eight students signed up to provide disaster recovery legal services.

“Students meet clients on their own, but we prepare them for meetings in advance,” Hamilton continued. “Afterwards, we accompany the students in the process of developing an action plan, the first steps, etc. Currently we have 12 clients, but it fluctuates a lot. Right after Woolsey, we had 30 local customers.

Pepperdine has formed partnerships with various local disaster relief organizations as well as long-term recovery groups for the Woolsey Fire, and Hamilton attends their meetings and is an active member of these groups.

Pepperdine’s free legal clinics are a win-win situation for students and residents, according to the school’s website.

Residents receive free legal aid; and “students gain hands-on experience with the transitioning legal needs of clients recovering from disaster,” the website states. “[They learn to] navigate bureaucratic and administrative processes, insurance, government permits and benefits, and reconstruction. [In addition, they gain experience with] advice and advice, assessment and analysis, negotiation and advocacy, research and writing, and advice on legal issues as they arise.

The student’s perception of the experience sometimes depends on the client. While some clients can be “difficult,” Hamilton said, overall when the student is able to help someone, “it’s so deep. Students learn to care about customers, and it’s a very impactful and meaningful experience for them. They generally really enjoy being one-on-one with clients and seeing how they can achieve results. »

The experience is also positive for customers. Client and local resident Karen Zethraeus posted on social media: “We would never have received our FEMA loan for our reconstruction without their help! So grateful.”

To apply for legal help, call (310) 506-4779.

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