Illinois Supreme Court adopts "Katrina Rule" to help deliver legal services after major disaster

The Illinois Supreme Court announced on Wednesday that it has adopted a new rule to facilitate the delivery of legal services in an emergency resulting from a major disaster.

In the case of an Illinois disaster, new Supreme Court Rule 718 would allow attorneys who are licensed in another state to provide pro bono publico legal services to residents of Illinois. In the event of a disaster in another state, the rule would allow attorneys licensed outside of Illinois to provide pro bono legal services to residents of the stricken state who have been displaced to Illinois because of the disaster.

The rule also would allow attorneys licensed in a stricken state to provide legal services in Illinois as long as those legal services arise out of and are reasonably related to the lawyers’ practice of law where the major disaster occurred.

The rule has come to be known as the "Katrina Rule" because it was developed by the American Bar Association in response to the hurricane by that name which wreaked tragedy across New Orleans. The rule, however, is intended to address both natural and man-made disasters such as earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, public health emergencies, and acts of terrorism or war.

Application of the rule would be triggered by the Illinois Supreme Court’s determination that an emergency or other major disaster affecting the justice system had occurred. Attorneys practicing in Illinois pursuant to the new rule would not be allowed to make court appearances in Illinois unless that permission was generally granted by the Illinois Supreme Court in the aftermath of the disaster or pro hac vice admission was obtained in an individual lawsuit.

Pro bono legal services under the rule must be provided without compensation or the expectation of compensation and assigned or supervised through an established not-for-profit legal services organization, bar association, or pro bono program.

The new rule was recommended by the Illinois Supreme Court Committee on Professional Responsibility. Steven F. Pflaum of Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP, who also serves as Chair of the Committee on Professional Responsibility, said the rule provides preparation for the delivery of legal services in the case of a disaster.

"This new rule is unlike any other Supreme Court Rule, in that the hope is it will never be utilized," Mr. Pflaum said. "Nevertheless, in an era of increased risk of natural and anthropogenic disasters that impels us to think about the unthinkable, the Court’s adoption of this rule provides prudent preparation to enable our state’s legal system to address a disaster occurring in Illinois or elsewhere."

The new Supreme Court rule takes effect immediately.

Posted on April 4, 2012 by Chris Bonjean
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