With recovery efforts continuing in New York and New Jersey a week after Hurricane Sandy hit the region hard, members of the legal community are pitching in to do their part.
While many local residents wait for their electricity to return and others sort through the wreckage of what were once their homes, a number of Am Law firms are drawing on their collective power to donate legal services to the relief effort. Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison chair Brad Karp, for instance, says his firm has been actively contacting local legal organizations to offer pro bono assistance and determine how Paul Weiss can be most helpful. So far, Karp says, lawyers from the the firm have volunteered their services through The Legal Aid Society, the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), and both the New York State and New York City bar associations.
In cooperation with NYLAG, Paul Weiss attorneys are working on a variety of projects, including filing for Federal Emergency Management Agency benefits and assistance and other disaster relief organizations on behalf of storm victims, as well as pursuing appeals for those who have been denied aid. Some of the firm’s lawyers are also counseling victims on the preparation of insurance claims and documenting household damages. Others are answering victims’s legal questions over the phone as part of programs through the city and state bar groups, the latter of which has established a lawyer referral hotline to serve storm victims.
Karp says he is pleased with the way Paul Weiss lawyers and staff have responded: “In all my years at the firm I’ve never seen a response of this dimension. Everyone is pitching in, from the senior-most partner to the junior-most secretary.”
Jones Day attorneys are also doing their part. Mark Seiden, pro bono coordinator for the firm’s New York office, says real estate partner Steven Koppel and finance associate Jonathan Goren are working pro bono on documenting a $10 million emergency loan being provided by Goldman Sachs and the New York City government to small business owners in certain parts of the city whose businesses were harmed by the storm.
A number of other Am Law firms tell The Am Law Daily they are reaching out to legal aid organizations in an effort to offer their pro bono services. Greenberg Traurig, Mayer Brown, McDermott Will & Emery, O’Melveny & Myers, Patton Boggs, and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom have all pledged lawyers and resources for pro bono service.
For its part, Mayer Brown has donated space in its New York office to accomodate 14 NYLAG lawyers displaced by the storm. A firm spokesman says he expects the lawyers to remain in the temporary office space for up to six weeks. Skadden is also hosting displaced local legal service organizations, according to chief administrative officer Laurel Henschel.
Patton Boggs managing partner Edward Newberry says that in addition to offering legal assistance to storm victims, his firm is encouraging employees to donate blood and plans to organize blood drives at several of its offices. Attorneys at the firm, he adds, are eager to do more: “I have received dozens of emails from partners and associates throughout the firm who are looking to not only contribute monetarily but in other ways as well.”
Karp says it can take time for firms to coordinate with outside groups to settle on the best course of action. “I think, frankly, a lot of organizations are now just starting to figure out what they can do,” he says.
To that end, representatives from the City Bar, as well as from other city legal services and pro bono groups, met Monday to craft a plan for coordinating pro bono efforts in areas affected by the storm.
In addition to lending their legal expertise, several firms are also making financial contributions to the relief effort. Karp says Paul Weiss has pledged to match all employee donations made to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund up to a total of $250,000. Skadden will also donate $250,000 to local relief efforts, which includes the firm matching employee donations up to a total of $100,000. Morrison & Foerster has pledged a total of $100,000, while both Holland & Knight and McGuireWoods will match employee contributions up to $50,000. Patton Boggs will donate $25,000 to the Red Cross and will match employee contributions up to $25,000.
National Law Journal reporter Matthew Huisman and Am Law Daily reporter Diane Jeantet contributed reporting.