On Sunday January 19,2019 Students, Attorneys and support staff from The University of Buffalo School of Law returned to Puerto Rico to continue assisting the residents of Puerto Rico with their recovery efforts.
While in Puerto Rico, UB Staff met with former Buffalo residents who now reside in Puerto Rico for consultation on what still needs to be done. Former Vice President of Bank of America, Fernando Garcia Martinez, Edwin Martinez, Publisher of Panorama Hispano News and Augustin “Chito” Olivencia who has ties to the current Governor advised and provided logistic assistance.
The School of Law which launched a new law clinic in November of 2018 in response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, which has left hundreds of thousand of Puerto Ricans American in critical need of legal assistance.
Through the Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic, a group of specially trained UB law students learned relevant law in Buffalo and then travel to Puerto Rico in January to offer hands-on legal assistance, providing direct access to justice for those in urgent need.
“Puerto Rico is facing not just a natural disaster, but a legal disaster,” says Kim Diana Connolly, professor and vice dean for advocacy and experiential education, and director of the law school’s Clinical Legal Education Program. ( Pictured to left) “As electricity and other basics come online in the coming weeks and months, the demand for legal assistance will become paramount.
“The immediate needs are vast, and we are still working with local experts to identify the best projects for UB law students to handle,” Connolly says. “We know the pressing needs range from direct legal representation of individuals and families to supporting those working within the Puerto Rican legal system trying to help citizens best navigate this tragedy.”
Participating students will receive more than two weeks of intensive training by law school faculty, alumni and other legal experts, including attorneys from Buffalo, such as Octavio Villegas. (Picture below)
They will identify the most urgent legal needs that residents and local government agencies are currently facing. Students will acquire the skills and substantive knowledge required to address legal aspects of disaster response. Connolly will coordinate the program and classes will take place at the law school.
After the classroom component is completed, students will have an opportunity to travel to Puerto Rico on an ongoing basis and gain service experiences, providing essential legal assistance as supervised student attorneys. In addition to earning academic credit for their participation, students will learn practical skills and firsthand experience applying the rule of law to restore order and justice in an unsettled context.
Luis Chiesa, Former Dean for Academic Affairs and criminal law professor at the law school and a native of Puerto Rico, will act as an academic consultant.
“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,” says Chiesa. “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.”
The greater UB School of Law community also will participate: Alumni and faculty have volunteered to consult long distance in their areas of expertise to support law students serving clients in Puerto Rico.
“Access to justice is at the heart of everything we do at the law school and this initiative is a perfect example,” says Dean Aviva Abramovsky. “We have a long history of providing pro bono service and teaching our students to view the world with compassion, knowing that regardless of where they ultimately choose to work, they have a moral responsibility, as lawyers and as leaders, to use their skills and knowledge to ensure justice and to give back.”
Donations to help offset the cost of sending law students to provide on-the-ground assistance can be made online. For more information, contact the law school’s clinic at 716-645-2167 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fernando Garcia Martinez
Former Vice President Bank of America and CEO Panorama Hispano News
Edwin Martinez, Jr. Owner and Publisher Panorama Hispano News Media LLC
Founding Member: Hispanics United of Buffalo