Much of the legal industry on the East Coast boarded up and battened down on October 29 as Hurricane Sandy raged toward the region, with just a few offices determined to muscle through the storm.
Courts, government offices, law firms and schools along the Eastern seaboard and as far west as Pittsburgh took heed of the danger, amid grounded flights and barricaded bridges. Many workplaces planned to remain closed the next day.
State and federal courts in New York City and surrounding areas were shut down to all but arraignments and emergency applications. In Washington, the U.S. Supreme Court remained open for arguments, even as the rest of the District of Columbia, including the federal government, closed in anticipation of the storm. A federal magistrate judge was on hand to cover emergencies.
Arguments before a packed Supreme Court began on time at 10 a.m., with all justices in attendance. Arguments scheduled for October 30 were postponed until November 1, however.
Courts in Massachusetts closed around midday, and planned to open 24 hours later.
Many attorneys at East Coast law firms worked from home or, in a few cases, braved the conditions and went into the office.
Attorneys at Cravath Swaine & Moore in New York went in on a voluntary basis, according to a firm secretary who answered the telephone there. The firm’s chef made it to work, cooking breakfast and lunch—gratis—for those in attendance. Cravath was footing the bill for attorneys who chose to remain close to the office in hotels.
Carter Ledyard & Milburn in downtown Manhattan shut its doors. Managing Partner Judith Lockhart cited the dangers of getting safely to and from work. “I worked downtown during the Nor’easter in December 1992,” Lockhart said via email. “I waded through knee high water to get home, and it was not fun. I personally think this will be more than a blip.”
Some attorneys at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe’s New York office managed to make it it. “Where there’s a will there’s a way,” said Peter Bicks, the partner in charge. Bicks wasn’t sure exactly how many employees were on hand, but said that the lights, power and even the food cart parked on the street outside were fully operational.
Bicks had a filing due in France and said clients not based on the East Coast were depending on the firm to file documents in other jurisdictions.
Reed Smith partner David Grimes didn’t let the storm slow him down. The Westport, Conn., resident was in the middle of finalizing a deal for client Patheon Inc. when authorities ordered a mandatory evacuation of his neighborhood. “You multitask,” he said.
Grimes, who practices in the firm’s New York office, alternated between tying down flying objects outside his house and finishing the deal. The client, publicly traded in Canada, hoped to get the transaction ready by start of business as the workweek opened, Grimes said, so his team worked through the night, finalizing a stock purchase agreement to acquire Banner Pharmacaps for $255 million at 3:30 a.m. Grimes was riding out the storm at a friend’s house while working remotely.
Rosetta Matasaran, a secretary at Proskauer Rose, said she could count on one hand the number of attorneys she saw come in to the New York office. Most attorneys worked from home, she said, but the phones rang steadily with people calling, including clients, to ask whether meetings were happening on October 30. Answer: probably not.
In Boston, Sullivan & Worcester recommended that people leave by midday, said co-managing partner Bill Curry. The city’s announcement that mass transit was suspending service at 2 p.m. prompted the move. The firm already had closed its Washington and New York offices and shut down its computer server in New York.
Other firms took similar precautions with electronic databases. Goulston & Storrs, which closed its Boston offices, ran through protocols last week to make sure that its backup services would work in the event of office closures, said co-managing partner Doug Husid.
At Roseland, New Jersey–-based Lowenstein Sandler, IT staff worked throughout the night before the storm hit making sure that attorneys and employees could work remotely, said firm chairman Gary Wingens.
Would-be lawyers had similar experiences. Many law schools were shut down, with plans to remain closed on October 30. All eight of New York City’s law schools were closed. Long Island’s two law schools also were closed.
All seven of Washington’s law schools closed amid suspension of public transportation. Georgetown University Law Center also canceled classes for October 30, while George Mason University School of Law planned to reopen at noon. The Wilmington, Del., campus of Widener University School of Law was closed, as were Rutgers University School of Law campuses in Camden and Newark, N.J. The campus closures extended into Massachusetts, with all nine law schools in the state canceling classes. Penn State Dickinson School of Law also was closed.
Staff reporters Mike Scarcella, Karen Sloan, Sheri Qualters and Zoe Tillman contributed to this report, as did John Caher of NLJ affiliate New York Law Journal and Sara Randazzo of The Am Law Daily.