13:44 PM

Here to help during disaster

Missouri lawyers assist disaster victims with legal questions, at no cost, through hotline

Nearly 12 years ago, Keegan Tinney received his high school diploma less than an hour before an EF-5 tornado struck his hometown of Joplin. His family, friends, and neighbors faced significant losses and many uncertainties, but Tinney saw how lawyers stepped up to assist the disaster victims. Now a lawyer himself, Tinney has come full circle – helping other Missourians impacted by unexpected disasters.

“There were a lot of people who helped Joplin through the tornado, so through my legal experience, I want to continue giving back,” said Tinney, who co-founded Dreyer & Tinney Law Firm in Joplin.

March 6-10 was Severe Weather Preparedness Week in Missouri, a time when Missourians are reminded of how to best prepare and protect themselves from natural disasters like tornadoes and flooding. While many residents hope they’ll never need to use these skills or tools, dozens of lawyers – like Tinney – are here to help if disasters do unexpectedly strike.

When disasters occur throughout the state, The Missouri Bar opens its Disaster Recovery Legal Assistance Hotline, a toll-free number – 800-829-4128 – that impacted residents can use to request legal help. Callers leave messages about their legal issues or questions, and volunteer lawyers return the calls within 48 hours to provide free legal support.

The disaster hotline was open from August to December 2022 in response to torrential rain and flash flooding in the St. Louis area in July. It received more than 40 calls, and about 20 clients were referred to lawyers who volunteered to assist with flood-related legal issues and questions. Matters included landlord-tenant issues, insurance, FEMA assistance, and more.

“The disaster hotline is just a really easy, quick way for a lawyer to give back in a minimal capacity from a lawyer standpoint,” Tinney said. “For (a lawyer), it may be 20-30 minutes of work but for that victim, that’s life changing. You’re giving them clear, simple advice that points them in the right direction and helps them get their life back on track after a tragedy strikes.”

Any lawyer can sign up to volunteer with the hotline by clicking here. Volunteers will be asked to specify which areas of law they are willing to help with.

“Regardless of background or their practice, there is a way for a Missouri lawyer to help out,” Tinney said, whether that be by answering specific legal questions or simply explaining how to get new birth certificates and drivers’ licenses.

Along with volunteering for the disaster hotline, Tinney co-chairs The Missouri Bar Young Lawyers’ Section Council Disaster Relief Committee, which collaborates with statewide entities to develop and provide resources when disasters occur. As the American Bar Association Young Lawyer Division District 22 representative, Tinney is also responsible for coordinating resources and information during times of disaster in Missouri with the ABA, FEMA, State Emergency Management Agency, YLS Council, and others.

“We know that a disaster will strike, and we’ll be ready for it when it does,” Tinney said.

If you would like to volunteer with the disaster hotline or other pro bono activities, click here to view a list of possible opportunities.