PRACTICING LAW AFTER THE WTC DISASTER
INCLUDING TIPS FOR THE SINGLE PRACTITIONER
As presented to the NYS Bar Association annual meeting, Law Office Economics Management January 23, 2002
By Leona Beane © December 2001
September 11, 2001:
My office is about 2 blocks north of the World Trade Center. That day, I started out a little later than usual, and decided to use the subway (‘E’ train) that goes right into the Trade Center. There were many delays. Finally, when the train stopped at West 4th Street (Greenwich Village), I decided to take a taxi, which was impossible, so I started to walk downtown. While walking downtown, I saw the fires and the extreme smoke. At Canal St. (about 10 blocks north of my office), the crowds were starting to get larger. I walked across Canal Street to go south at Broadway -- the crowds kept getting larger, with mass hysteria of people running towards me, and there was loads of smoke -- that was real scary -- I think that must have been when the towers collapsed, but I didn't know. I kept walking downtown, trying to get away from the mass crowds by going into doorways for safety. Then I met someone who had an office in the same office building who told me the building had been evacuated, and people were being told to keep walking north (away from the area ). Thus, I turned, and started walking north.
I think in the end I walked well over 8 miles -- it's a good thing I'm a good walker. While walking uptown I met up with 4 people who work in the Surrogate's Court. The Court had also been evacuated. Two of them were planning to walk across the 59th Street Bridge to get to Queens and Long Island.
As the day went on, the crowds thinned and later in the afternoon, many of the buses started running, and some of the subways. During the day, there were constant sounds of emergency vehicles with many ambulances from Brooklyn and Flushing and elsewhere. People couldn't use cars, and for several hours most of the bridges and tunnels were closed. Police were at all the major street crossings.
My secretary (paralegal assistant) had been in my office in the early A.M. There were about 3-4 other employees also in the office suite. She saw the fires from the window. She told me there were emergency announcements for everyone to evacuate the building. She walked downstairs with the others, and was waiting in the Lobby. Shortly thereafter, two FBI agents arrived and insisted everyone had to leave the building, and that everyone should just keep walking north (uptown). By the end of the day, she was able to use a subway to Brooklyn as several of the Brooklyn trains were working by that time.
During this whole time the phones downtown were not working -- my cell phone didn’t work. The few public phones that were working, had long lines of people waiting.
The Next Few Days and Weeks Ahead
Thank goodness for e-mail which I used from my home, along with cable modem, as that had become my major form of communication with friends, relatives, and the legal world over the next several weeks. All areas below Canal Street were closed, with no access, no phones, no mail, no electricity, and loads of smoke and debris and damage.
All Courts in New York County (other than the Appellate Division) were closed for the rest of the week. The Courts in New York County opened on Monday, but there was no phone service. The Court administration subsequently obtained a few hundred cell phones for the Court’s use, which I understand did not always work. The Court computers in NY County were not working for several days after they re-opened.
Over the next few days and weeks, several lawyers with offices in midtown offered me the use of their office to do work. The problem is I didn’t have any papers or files to work on. All my papers and files were at my office downtown on hard copy and notes, and on the computers in my office. This was a situation where if I had a Palm Pilot it would have been a big help. Also, a good back-up system is crucial. This had taught me we should plan differently -- there are so many things kept in an office such as tax records, financial records, check books, etc. Each nite when we leave our offices, we should have a checklist of what we should take with us in case we can't get to the office tomorrow, and for several days thereafter. I didn’t even have the phone numbers of clients and others.
As of Sunday, there was still no access to my office, but I decided to venture downtown to peruse the area. There were announcements the Stock Exchange and other businesses east of Broadway were expected to open on Monday. My office is ½ block west of Broadway (so my office was not included). I was walking near the South St. Seaport, and then across on John St. Most buildings had signs they were closed, and some had phone numbers and web sites posted for info. A few food shops had several people working, cleaning and discarding huge bags of spoiled food. It was a very clear day, but sometimes as the wind blew, the air became very bad with smoke and fumes, and that was about 6-10 blocks from the WTC site. I had to use a mask. On that day, the closest I could get to where the New York Stock Exchange was at Wall & William Streets (2 blocks away).
Finally, Thursday and Friday (September 20 and 21), I was able to have limited access to my office premises, for 20-30 minutes with a police escort, who remained with me (for security purposes) till I left. There was no electricity and no phones and no water in the building, but no real damage that I could see. Looking for papers in files with little flashlights was not easy. But at least I was able to retrieve a few important papers that I was able to locate, and thus possibly arrange to do some limited work at home on my laptop.
On Wednesday, September 26, electricity was restored, but still no telephone service. This time I obtained entry with a police escort, who then was able to leave after the super of the building gave an O.K. The building where my office is located had a wire fence around it, with Police guards at the corner, and there was still no phone service.
Once the electricity was restored, I was able to check my computers which appeared to be in tact. Thus, I would be able to get some work done. However, it was extremely difficult working without phones, and no fax and no e-mail, and attempting to call other attorneys (most of whom also had no phone service).
Some lawyers and law firms had taken out ads in the Law Journal to announce their new temporary address and temporary telephone numbers. The N.Y.S. Bar Association (on its web site) had a section listing attorneys temporary telephone and address changes. The list kept getting longer. Many clients couldn’t find their lawyers.
On September 24 and 25, I attended the LegalTech Show in NY -- I had signed up for it a few weeks in advance because I realized I had to learn more technology. I'm happy I attended and learned a great deal -- they also had several programs on Disaster Recovery -- at that time I was not sure if my computers still worked. Ross Kodner did a phenomenal job in putting together a group of "techies" who agreed to assist those lawyers with offices affected by the WTC disaster -- he and his group put together the WTC Disaster Relief LegalTech Assistance Program.
As of October 1, 2001, I finally had phone service restored, and at this time the office building was officially opened. There were still intermittent disruptions with the phone service at times. Thus, I continued using my cell phones. Practically everyone in lower Manhattan has been using cell phones required for basic communication. Virtually all of lower Manhattan still had no regular phone service, and some lawyers still did not have regular access to their office. The phone service problem was real bad, because the phones appeared to be ringing, but they were not ringing thru to the person; it's frustrating to the person calling because they believe the other person is not answering the phone.
Mail service was restored as of October 5, 2001; the large post office at 90 Church St. (across from the WTC) sustained extensive water and other damage, and I understand may not be in service for several months. During the several weeks prior to October 5, 2001, I and my assistant had been going to the main post office on 33rd Street to attempt to retrieve the office mail -- that's a whole story by itself, since I’m in an office suite with 6 other attorneys.
No vehicles were permitted below Canal Street. Thus, no deliveries. I wanted to purchase a new office refrigerator because the current one had to be discarded (being without electricity that long). We didn't receive the New York Law Journal until October 11 because they claimed they couldn't get access to the building. By that time, there were occasional deliveries in the area from Federal Express and UPS and other delivery services. But, for many weeks, there were still no taxis permitted below Canal Street.
During this whole time (until October 29, 2001) there had been Police guards at the corner of Park Place and Broadway, and a wire fence around the office building. There was no admittance to the block without proof of identity and proof that the person had an office there. The block had been listed as "no access" on the disaster area maps. I kept checking the maps at www.nyc.gov to check on the boundary line for ‘access’. Stores on the block including branches of 2 large banks had not been able to open for 7 weeks. It's hard to describe the situation to someone who had not personally attempted to gain access.
Current Situation - December, 2001
At times you can still smell smoke, fumes, chemicals and other toxins in the air- - the air is just not good. When I go out, I sometimes still use a small mask -- some days it's worse than others.
Some lawyers still don't have full telephone service restored. Some of the Court phones numbers in Manhattan still don’t work.
There are still several buildings in the area where lawyers have not yet been permitted to return to their office. Quite a few attorneys who had offices in the WTC area, also lived in the vicinity, and thus may not even have phone service at home. Virtually everyone downtown is still using cell phones to get by even if phone service was restored, because at times there are disruptions.
Getting through the ordeal of being displaced (even temporarily) has not been easy -- it is a very depressing and very stressful situation.
Many lawyers have the extra burdens and stress of figuring out different travel arrangements -- some subway and train stops are not in service, and some subway routes have been modified; there have been many restrictions on vehicle travel into and within Manhattan. To go for any appointments, I have to plan on extra time in case of delays in transportation, and delays due to extra security. Many buildings in midtown have extra security measures implemented to enter the building.
Many lawyers have on an ad hoc basis developed some form of temporary arrangement. Some are still working out of their house or the residence or office of a relative or friend. Many are not sure where they will move to or when, and figure they will make decisions later, as long as they are able to somewhat minimally get by in the short term. Many lawyers are not receiving the Law Journal, or are under such stressful times, they don't have time to read it even if they do receive it.
There are continual telephone disruptions. The week just before Thanksgiving, 2 of my phone lines had terrible static, and I couldn’t use e-mail or the internet, and I was expecting some important information via e-mail. I thus walked to New York County Lawyers Association which had just opened the week before, so as to check my e-mail. There were Police guards at the corner of Vesey Street & Broadway, and a big wire fence was just outside their building, with no access to go west to Church St. While at New York County Lawyers, I heard the excessive noise just outside the building (on the other side of the fence) of the machinery and equipment being utilized by the rescue workers to pull apart the destroyed sections of the WTC.
Some Tips for Lawyers, primarily for the Single Practitioner
Unfortunately, many tips relate to maintaining (and paying for) duplicate systems and services -- both for the office and the home.
 Back-Up your computers with a good tape back-up system.
 Back-Up important files – even if you’re not sure which tape back-
up system to implement, in the interim, copy files to CD’s and/or Zip Disks and do this regularly (every week or perhaps every day), and then take the CD’s and disks home -- keep them off-site.
 Maintain a copy of your office Rolodex for home use (or Palm Pilot or other device) that has all phone numbers, etc.
 Maintain at home the home phone numbers, e-mail, and other
contact information (in addition to office numbers) for lawyers and others that you have regular contact with (such as accountants, insurance agents, surety bonds, etc) for home use.
 Must have computer or laptop at home (with all regular software)
 Set-up e-mail for home use
 Join Listserv’s in area of specialty – wonderful source of communication and information
 Computerized legal research for home use - such as Lexis or WestLaw
 Cable modem or DSL for home use
 Use different internet service providers -- in case one provider has
disruptions in service.
 Cell phones – if you have more than one (1) cell phone, use two (2) different providers in case of disruptions in service.
 Have calendar system (on disk or at least a paper calendar) with
you for home use, so you know all your Court dates and appointments ( another advantage of using Palm Pilot or other similar device).
 Set up file (and also maintain hard copy) of office bank account numbers to maintain at home, plus have on hand at least one (1) blank check for each account -- maintain in safe place at home.
 If you’re in an office suite with other lawyers, set up a a file (and
maintain a hard copy) of the home numbers, home addresses, e-mail, and other contact info for all attorneys and staff.
 Use software for check books and other financial records, e.g. Quicken or other software program; update on regular basis, and take copy of disk home.
 Don’t keep original Wills or original executed Deeds and contracts in the office. Have compete photocopies with full execution for office and for off-site, and maintain the originals in a bank safe deposit vault.
 Have details of laptop serial number and software and phone
numbers for warranty, etc., in a file and on separate disk (plus hard copy) when traveling with laptop.
 In the middle of each day, make a check-list of what you should
copy and/or take home in case you can’t return to the office tomorrow or for several days thereafter. Then, before you leave your office at the end of the day, follow through on your list.
NOTE: This paper was presented at the N.Y.S. Bar Association Annual Meeting, Law Office Economics and Management Committee on January 23, 2002.
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