SAN DIEGO (October 30, 2007) – In response to the wildfires that have devastated 700 square miles of Southern California – an area larger than the Big Island of Hawaii – law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP has just published and is distributing an invaluable free resource guide for residents and small businesses in the region, packed with useful, actionable information to help them recover and get back on their feet.
The 109-page Helping Handbook was compiled by more than two dozen Morrison & Foerster attorneys with specialties in labor/employment, real estate, tax, consumer issues, finance, business recovery, litigation, environmental and land use, immigration, and other disciplines.
More than 5,000 copies of the book, printed free of charge by RR Donnelley in San Diego, will be published and distributed by employees of the firm, as well as by local bar associations and legal service and nonprofit organizations. The handbook will be available at neighborhood legal aid centers, the FEMA local assistance centers that are currently being set up across the region, the California State Bar and at the bar associations of San Diego County, North County, San Bernardino County, Orange County, Los Angeles County, Riverside County and the San Fernando Valley.
A separate version of the Handbook is being translated into Spanish – the service donated by TransPerfect Translation – and will be available in the coming week. Both editions can be downloaded at Morrison & Foerster’s web site:
“Even with Californians’ frequent experience with natural disasters, many residents might not know where to turn after fire has destroyed most of what they own, or if they’ve been forced to evacuate their homes for days on end,” explained Kathi Pugh, firmwide pro bono counsel at Morrison & Foerster who led the Helping Handbook initiative.
“This has been a truly collaborative effort – among Morrison & Foerster lawyers in California and New York, and with the active support of county bar associations across Southern California, as well as the California State Bar,” added Ms. Pugh, who works out of Morrison & Foerster’s San Francisco office. “Each of our collaborators will also post links on their respective web sites directing visitors to the Handbook.”
In accessible, Q&A style, the Handbook covers critical post-disaster topics such as finding temporary housing, insurance, unemployment, dealing with government agencies such as FEMA and the Small Business Administration, replacing lost documents, and more (see below for a complete list of topics covered).
This is the sixth Helping Handbook compiled by Morrison & Foerster in recent years. The first two editions were created in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001, to help residents and small businesses in Lower Manhattan recover in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks. Since then the firm has produced all-new versions following the California wildfires of 2003, as well as a series of major floods in upstate New York, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The newest Handbook includes information based on lessons learned from recent disasters – for example, on caring for pets, after numerous pet-related horror stories circulated in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The section on small business recovery has been updated and expanded, said Ms. Pugh, who was involved in organizing the Handbook for the 2003 fires, until this month California’s worst on record.
This fall’s wildfires have also struck Morrison & Foerster close to home. Along with almost all businesses, schools and other institutions in southwest San Diego – including federal and state courts within the evacuation zone – the firm was forced to close its offices for several days due to heavy smoke and other hazards associated with the fire. Morrison & Foerster’s office reopened on October 29.
San Diego managing partner Mark Zebrowski noted that more than half of the office staff had to evacuate their homes. Firm personnel had use of the office for emergency communications or other fire-related needs.
“The fires have cut such a wide swath of destruction across our region, touching everyone regardless of social station or demographic profile,” Mr. Zebrowski said. “As its title makes clear, our guide is meant to extend a helping hand to all residents who have suddenly found themselves without direction on where to turn to begin the process of recovering their losses or rebuilding their lives, even if normalcy is a long way off for all of us.”
Following is a list of topics covered in Morrison & Foerster’s Helping Handbook:
State Aid Programs
Small Business Issues
Document & Record Replacement
Consumer Tips & Fraud Prevention
Pets & Animals
Lawyer Referral Services & Legal Aid
State/Federal Agency Quick Phone List