We return to our 5 in 5 series with an interview with one of The Pro Bono Project’s most dedicated volunteers, Hugh Straub. Recognized for his legal acumen, philanthropic spirit, and bow tie, Hugh practiced in the area of admiralty law first at Terriberry, Carroll & Yancey and then at Phelps Dunbar. Hugh is in his sixth year volunteering at the Orleans Parish Civil District Court Self-Help Resource Center. Serving self-represented litigants two times a week, Hugh was a LSBA Distinguished Access to Justice Fellow for 2018.
Not many people know that you were born in New York. How did you make your way to Louisiana?
My ambition as a youngster was to be the master of a merchant ship. To reach that goal, I went to S.U.N.Y. Maritime College, a merchant marine officer training school. Upon graduation as a third mate, I came to New Orleans to work for Lykes Bros. Steamship Company as a seagoing, deck officer. Before too long, I realized seafaring was not quite as romantic as I had imagined, so I went to Tulane Law School with the idea of joining my nautical background to an admiralty law career. I developed a convert’s love for New Orleans and never left.
How does a lawyer with over 40 years’ experience in admiralty law end up volunteering at the Orleans Self Help Resource Center providing visitors with information on domestic law?
My good fortune landed me a job with Terriberry, Carroll and Yancey, a boutique admiralty firm representing international ship owners and their underwriters. I loved my ship casualty litigation practice, but always understood lawyers were called to do more in life than save money for insurance companies.
After Katrina, Terriberry merged with Phelps Dunbar, a firm which encourages its lawyers to volunteer in our community. Even though I had long forgotten the basics of domestic law and had never practiced in our state courts, I tried out the Self Help desk, then overseen by Linton Carney. Under his guidance, I soon realized the Self Help Desk primarily involves carefully listening to our visitors and then applying a bit of law and common sense to help them chart a course to meet their need. If one can’t recall a particular prescriptive period, or venue requirement, a quick look in the Civil Code or Code of Civil Procedure gives the answer. The clerk’s office is always ready to answer procedural questions.
What do you enjoy most about your work with The Pro Bono Project, and in particular, the Self Help Desk?
The Self Help Desk is fascinating. We see a wonderful cross-section of New Orleans folks from all our city’s neighborhoods. The happy and the heartbroken - they come and we strive to help them unravel their predicament while de-mystifying the court process. Most importantly, we take the time to understand their issue, even if the problem is beyond our office’s capability. We provide the resources to address those particularly difficult issues. No one leaves unheard or empty-handed.
Besides the people we help, I very much enjoy the volunteer lawyers, law students and college students with whom we work. Their insight, experience, and enthusiasm are infectious. Every day is different.
I’d be remiss not to mention the support we receive from the CDC bench and clerk’s office. Their care for the people of our city is truly refreshing.
Who or what inspires you?
An easy question! My life, in every facet, has been grace upon grace. I believe to whom much has been given, much is expected. And, how better to meet that responsibility than in service to the people of our city, each one made in the image of God?
Retirement has kept you busy! From assisting immigrants in preparing for their immigration test to helping self-represented litigants at CDC, you fulfill the ideal pro bono publico. What else do you do in your free time?
I am an ecumenist committed to cooperation and mutual respect between churches. I have long been involved with our state’s council of churches. This interest led me to the Order of St. Lazarus, a 900-year-old, international, chivalric order committed to ecumenism through its myriad charities. I presently serve as the order’s general counsel. As St Lazarus is Madrid based and particularly active in Europe, a Louisiana civil law background has proven surprisingly helpful.
Otherwise, I enjoy tinkering on and riding motorcycles (three in the basement), sailing, and long, leisurely lunches as only retired folks get to do.