Just a week before Hurricane Harvey hit, Punam Kaji ’12, an associate with Haynes and Boone, LLP, had relocated from Dallas to Houston. After the hurricane, her inbox was flooded with emails from other lawyers asking, “What should we be doing right now to help?” Kaji, a graduate of SMU’s Dedman School of Law, serves as chair of the Asian Pacific Interest Section (APIS) of the State Bar of Texas. APIS recently organized and co-sponsored hurricane relief legal training with a coalition of Bar organizations and community groups at South Texas College of Law–Houston. Above the Law, a legal news and commentary website, highlighted the pro bono initiative on October 20, 2017.
Above the Law
Last week, the Asian Pacific Interest Section (APIS) of the State Bar of Texas organized and co-sponsored hurricane relief legal training with a coalition of diverse bar organizations and community groups at South Texas College of Law–Houston.
Their training focused on ways to help with Hurricane Harvey relief, specifically instructing attorneys and others in the community on how to manage the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) appeals process. But other issues, such as language access and cultural barriers, were topics of discussion as well for the 44 attendees.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to catch up with Punam Kaji, chair of APIS, associate at Haynes and Boone, LLP, and alumnus of SMU Dedman School of Law. As Harvey’s downpour was still draining, her inbox started flooding with emails from other lawyers. Even attorneys whose homes were damaged were asking, “What should we be doing right now to help?”
As the chair of APIS, Kaji felt compelled to help focus its attention on a project they could do with several other community organizations. Helping with Harvey relief was very personal for her as well. The week before Harvey hit Houston and the surrounding areas, Kaji had just relocated to Dallas from the ravaged region. This training allowed her to be there in spirit to help after the catastrophe.
Renwei Chung: Your pro-bono initiative focused on training people for the FEMA application appeals process. Why?
Punam Kaji: The local organizations and pro bono lawyers in Houston did an incredible job getting to the shelters and assisting with FEMA applications. Daniel Hu, an APIS Council Member and board member of Lone Star Legal Aid, informed us that the FEMA Appeals process would come next, and be a difficult stage for those who have been denied FEMA assistance.
We wanted to anticipate the next critical legal need for Harvey survivors trying to get their life back. We figured if we train lawyers they will be able to take on a pro bono case or even give better advice to friends, family and community members.