Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Tom Rawls, Chief Counsel, BellSouth Corporation BellSouth Corporation learned the hard way how some federal laws can thwart crucial recovery efforts. Take the Stafford Act. The 1984 law outlines what the feds can do to help in a disaster area. But it also limits their help to supporting such “first responders” as police and firefighters in a disaster, not private businesses. Thompson “Tom” Rawls II, BellSouth’s chief counsel, who coordinated his Atlanta-headquartered company’s Katrina-related efforts, says the law “lacks the flexibility” to permit aid for private businesses that provide vital services. That led to a lot of frustration at the regional telecom company. Federal officials, for example, wouldn’t give BellSouth access to gasoline to run its generators, or allow its repair workers into evacuated areas in the hours and days after the storm. The government also refused to let federal marshals protect BellSouth workers. There was, Rawls says, a “war zone” raging outside their doors, with violent gangs threatening to invade the New Orleans main facility; BellSouth employees were forced to evacuate for a few hours. Rawls has seen BellSouth work through the aftermath of 22 hurricanes since 1992, “but nothing like this.” Despite BellSouth’s pleas for help, federal officials at first refused to budge. But after about 24 hours, Rawls and his lawyers convinced them that pulling BellSouth workers out of the city completely would lead to a loss of communications at the New Orleans Naval Air Station and Marine base. That argument triggered a “substantial federal interest” that gave the government the legal leverage to offer help. The feds sent marshals to guard the main station, allowed the company to hire 120 armed guards to protect other employees and offices, and let repair crews and supplies back into the city. Rawls has learned his lesson � emergency preparedness also means being aware of procedural laws. If they don’t make sense, try to change them. Right now, he and his legal team are trying to get Congress to amend the law to permit emergency work by “essential service providers,” not just first responders. Dean Falgoust, General Counsel, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. The iconic Streetcar Named Desire (and New Orleans resident) character Blanche DuBois may have depended on the kindness of strangers. But Dean Falgoust learned that it’s even better to depend on the kindness of friends � or at least friendly outside counsel. The night Katrina hit, Falgoust huddled with his wife, daughter, sister-in-law, nephew, and two Labrador retrievers in a single hotel room in Baton Rouge. “And they were very big dogs,” he recalls. Falgoust, his family, and his company’s major assets � gold, silver, and copper mines around the world � may have stayed safe and dry or comfortably out of Katrina’s reach. But the hurricane left about 200 employees at Freeport’s world headquarters in New Orleans without homes or offices. So Freeport and Falgoust, the company’s sole in-house attorney, took advantage of their decade-long relationship with outside counsel Jones, Walker, Waechter, Poitevent, Carr�re & Den�gre. With the post-Katrina demand for housing and office space for businesses fleeing New Orleans far outstripping the supply around the surrounding area, Jones, Walker came through. Relying on its real estate lawyers and other area clients, in one day it secured 50 Baton Rouge hotel rooms for Freeport’s long-term use, as well as office space and furniture. Then it found and handled the legal work to help Freeport personnel purchase 17 homes in the area. (Freeport, with about $4.8 billion in annual sales, is Jones, Walker’s largest client in the United States.) Falgoust’s Katrina takeaway: Turn to the friends you know. (And be prepared to share your bed with big Labs.) Stephen Brammell, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Harrah’s Entertainment, Inc. If there’s a Gulf-area success story to be told, it’s the casinos that may well lead the economic comeback of the storm-stricken region. Leading the way legally, from a safe perch in Las Vegas, is Stephen Brammell, who has pressed his law department into the reconstruction effort. But first Brammell had to overcome a unique legal obstacle (literally). Katrina left debris from four of Harrah’s casinos scattered across public and private property. The storm even tossed the barge holding its Biloxi casino into the middle of U.S. Highway 90. Debris was not Harrah’s only problem. Katrina and Rita destroyed or severely damaged Harrah’s New Orleans, the Grand Casino Biloxi, the Grand Casino Gulfport, and Harrah’s Lake Charles in Louisiana. All four are closed indefinitely, affecting 9,000 employees. Harrah’s initially estimated damages at $21 million but was still totaling up the tab. Rebuilding the casinos in New Orleans and Mississippi could take as much as two years, says Brammell. He adds that of the 29 lawyers he oversees, ten are actively involved in the reconstruction effort. Brammell says the debris problems pose some of the most “bizarre” issues that he’s ever faced as a lawyer. For example, Katrina pushed one casino onto private property, where removal would cause more damage. In another case, Brammell says, “our cars landed on other people’s cars; other people’s cars were on ours.” Who was responsible for what? And some bright guy, Brammell says, tried to protect his car from the storm surge by parking it on the top floor of a casino garage. One problem: The car stayed dry above the water, while much of the garage and its ramps were destroyed below. Who’s responsible for getting the car down by crane? What did Brammell learn? Be ready for surprises. “Debris removal is not something I learned in law school,” Brammell sighs. Victoria Johnson, General Counsel, Tulane University When Tulane’s New Orleans campus was inundated and GC Victoria Johnson was forced to evacuate, she left contracts and files yet to be put into the legal department’s computers. As Johnson and her six-lawyer staff worked toward Tulane’s January 17 reopening, one of her biggest problemshas been reconstructing computer data; Tulane didn’t have offsite backup. Tulane, which at press time was scheduled to reopen with a drastically downsized class program and faculty, is New Orleans’s largest private employer. Its shrunken medical school is scheduled to reopen in the fall. Beginning then, a new admission policy will require any new student to perform community service to help rebuild New Orleans. Luckily, in the weeks after the storm, Johnson had a place to work. With one attorney, she joined Tulane’s top administrators in Houston to craft the school’s reopening plan. Tulane offers an MBA program in Houston and already occupied leased office space there before the hurricane. The other four attorneys worked from remote locations. Because her own office had not completed its computerization project when Katrina hit, Johnson was forced to improvise. She sent workers into her office to salvage paper files and asked her attorneys at remote locations to scan many long and complex documents into their computers, which they could then share via e-mail. In search of funds to cover its $200 million in recovery costs, the university put together a team of lawyers, forensic accountants, and consultants to work with FEMA representatives and insurance agents. Much of the paperwork, including processing emergency work orders, fell to Johnson’s staff. Until they returned to campus, that meant lots of extra scanning. Guess what Johnson’s post-Katrina goal is? “Computerizing our contracts and important documents will be moved up on our priority list.”

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.