photo of group of students in Puerto Rico.

What's So Great About Law School Clinics? Representing Puerto Rico

Law school clinics provide 3 major benefits:

  • Experience for students
  • Affordable access to legal aid
  • Representation for invisible communities

The Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic accomplished all of the above (and more) in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Published February 12, 2018

What did clinic participants do in Puerto Rico?

"The night Maria hit, I was watching the pictures of what was happening, and I thought to myself, ‘right now they need the help that all the people who do first response are going to do, but a couple months from now, they're going to need lawyers.' " - Kim Diana Connolly, professor and vice dean

The primary purpose of the law school clinic’s trip was to provide legal aid and disaster relief assistance to the devastated area.

FEMA law was a major focus for the students - because a large portion of the population only speaks Spanish, many FEMA applications were filled out incorrectly and denied. FEMA appeals are even more complicated, and next to impossible to complete without English proficiency. Students worked hard on these appeals, as well as assisting with new applications.

Additional legal assistance included:

  • Providing guidance on benefits
  • Addressing issues of employment law when a natural disaster affects the employer
  • Elder law
  • Helping local lawyers provide larger volumes of appeals and other legal services

Students and faculty also delivered meals and supplies to people in need.

What’s so great about law school clinics?

“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. 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.” - Luis Chiesa, UB criminal law professor

Students learned about legal problems that arise after a disaster, including:

  • The environmental and urban planning impact of destruction
  • The continuing daily struggles outside of highly populated metro areas
  • Humanitarian and mental health crises

Most importantly, people came together to provide things that were desperately needed, but out of reach for many: legal aid, basic needs, and solidarity.

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Guest blogger Ashley Wilson-Rew is Content Strategist & SEM at protocol 80, Inc.


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