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There wasn’t much anyone could do that afternoon. On Sept. 11, 2001, legal professionals — trained to think logically about the worst possible scenarios — could only do what everyone was doing. David Covey, Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold’s New York managing partner, tried to vote in the city’s election, saying he wanted to send a message to the terrorists that the country’s political system was unharmed. Karen Nachbar, a Pillsbury Winthrop associate, stood in line for two hours outside a Manhattan hospital to give blood. “People felt helpless,” Nachbar said. “It was very frustrating; people were trying to do something more than make a donation.” But within the coming days, lawyers realized how their special brand of expertise could be of help. In the weeks following the attacks, lawyers enlisted by the thousands with their bar associations, seeking training to help families of people killed in the attacks and businesses that were destroyed or closed. “We couldn’t offer medical skills and people were looking for a way to reach out and help,” Nachbar said. “So when we were asked by the Bar, people jumped.” Three thousand miles away in the Bay Area, firms pledged their support for people and businesses needing pro bono advice. And they marshaled the resources of their New York outposts to aid the city bar association with its pro bono efforts. In San Francisco, hundreds of lawyers took part in training programs staged by the Bar Association of San Francisco and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to teach lawyers how to help people targeted by backlash discrimination. Lawyers also flocked to learn how to help people access federal assistance. Individual firms also took on special projects. Lawyers at Morrison & Foerster, for example, pitched in to write handbooks for individuals and for businesses affected by the attacks. MoFo lawyers also donated 300 hours to helping families obtain death certificates, and five New York-based lawyers are still assisting clients. Latham & Watkins has about 20 lawyers with individual clients related to the attacks. In Pillsbury’s New York office, Nachbar coordinated volunteers for the city’s emergency response programs and organized about 40 of the firm’s lawyers to staff booths at intake centers established for walk-ins seeking legal advice. The questions were so broad and varied that everyone’s expertise — from probate to insurance to real estate to employment benefits — came into play, Nachbar said. On some days, Nachbar sent out as many as 15 lawyers to the intake centers where they worked tables for hours fielding questions from people waiting in lines that sometimes stretched out the door. At first, families needed help with death certificates, but they also were faced with disposing of bank accounts, cars, even the apartments held by their family members who were killed. Small business owners near the World Trade Center needed help negotiating with employees, with suppliers, with landlords. The questions touched on “everything you could think of,” Nachbar said. Some of the firm’s lawyers ended up taking on as clients the people or business owners they assisted at the intake centers, Nachbar said. So far, there are more lawyers trained to help than there are people who need long-term pro bono assistance, although that could change as more people start taking advantage of newly available programs. “It’s been relatively slow,” said Jamie Levitt, a Morrison & Foerster partner in New York. “A lot of people got trained and are at the ready but there are so many firms who signed up to be facilitators that every firm has gotten just a few [clients].” The Association of Trial Lawyers of America, for example, created a separate entity called Trial Lawyers Care to link pro bono volunteers with people who want to access federal assistance programs. The organization has linked some 1,500 people with the lawyers, said Mary Alexander, the San Francisco attorney who is president of ATLA. Alexander is also representing two fathers who lost daughters that day, assigned to her through the program. “I feel very fortunate to be able to help these families,” Alexander said. “I hope more people will take advantage of our offer to help them.”

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