December 2017

Legal team provides

pro bono support

to hurricane victims

by Audrey Cannon

Teirra Everette was in law school when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005. “I remember the destruction in New Orleans,” she says. “I did pro bono work there as a student.”

 

A counsel on Dominion Energy’s legal team, Teirra moved to Richmond a few months ago after seven years in Cleveland.

 

In the midst of a brutal hurricane season this year—including catastrophic Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria—Teirra watched company employees offering help however they could, and was quick to consider what her department could do.

 

“Our line crews were traveling to assist with restoration, and the Hola! ERG was collecting goods to donate,” she says. “I started asking, ‘What can we as attorneys do?’”

 

Teirra learned that Texas is the only area recently affected that has granted out-of-state lawyers temporary permission to practice there.

 

So she set out on a mission. Teirra inquired among the legal team about their interest in providing pro bono support to families still suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. “I thought even if we can make a dent in the mountain of requests for legal help, it will be worthwhile,” she says.

 

“I went door-to-door in our office,” Teirra says. “I’m really excited that half the law department pledged to participate, including team members in Ohio, West Virginia and Utah.”

 

Dennis Lane, deputy general counsel, says Teirra was determined to gain support. “She put an amazing amount of work into organizing this,” he says. “She sat down in the office of everyone on the floor.” Dennis, who earned his law degree in Texas, was happy to join the initiative.

 

Dennis represents only one of about two dozen members of Dominion Energy’s legal team who volunteered.

 

For Lane Brindley, joining Teirra’s initiative wasn’t even a question. “My wife and I are both from Texas.” he says. “I grew up in Austin, and I still have family in Houston and friends in Rockport, near where Harvey hit.”

 

Thankfully, Lane’s family and friends were spared the worst, but others weren’t so lucky. “It was emotional for everybody,” Lane says. “For my wife to see her old neighborhood completely flooded. I knew there’d be a need for legal services. I’m just happy I can help in some way.”

 

Lane, senior counsel, noted that the individuals they’re assisting are primarily low-income. “They need help, but don’t know where to look. We are able to answer their legal questions online to make sure they aren’t taken advantage of.”

 

Attorneys can provide the legal support entirely online, doing research and answering questions in a pre-established pro bono clinic.

 

“It’s a wonderful idea,” says Carlos Brown, vice president and general counsel. “When Teirra first suggested it, I told her I’d do everything I can to support her. I’m excited about the impact we can have.”

 

The effort will be ongoing over the next couple months. The lawyers can log on to the portal and answer questions when they have time to spare.

 

“So far, each question has taken me about an hour to answer,” Teirra says. “I helped a 78-year-old woman determine her legal rights when dealing with significant damage to her home. And I was able to wish her a happy birthday.

 

“She was so grateful. For her, it seemed like an insurmountable issue, but I was able to bring her some clarity after just an hour of research.”

 

And the woman isn’t alone. There are hundreds of requests from people in similar situations seeking help our attorneys are qualified to provide.

 

As Cyril Coombs, assistant general counsel, puts it, “We can’t get up in a bucket and get the lights back on, but we are still excited to contribute by providing much-needed legal advice.”