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When you talk about this convention week with those who run downtown Los Angeles’ big law firms, two paradigms crop up — sometimes in the same sentence. There is the shining memory of 1984 and the summer Olympics when, magically, even the smog took a holiday, and the freeways were unclogged. Then there are the urban riots of 1992, when the pall from burning tires made twilight come early. “I’m thinking ’84,” says Charles Woodhouse, executive director of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher at 333 South Grand, well north of ground zero at the Staples Center. Last week, he walked to jury duty at the county courthouse. “I’ve never seen the city look so alive and vibrant, with all the new paving and cleanup and such.” And, yes, he’s going to be in town this week. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” “Oh, I’ll be here,” says Martha Jordan, but with less relish. She’s the managing partner of the L.A. office of Latham & Watkins in the First Interstate Tower, which is equally distant from Staples but a little too close for comfort to Pershing Square, where activists have told the city they plan a series of marches on each of the Democratic National Convention’s four days. “Most of our lawyers won’t be here, but I have to be,” Jordan continues. “I’m the captain of the ship. And if things start to get out of hand, we have confidence in the LAPD. If they tell us to, we leave.” Actually, the two firms’ plans for security and convenience — as well as those of their compatriots — are quite similar. They are largely leaving it up to individual lawyers where they, and their staffs, will be working. Everyone has laptop computers and outlying offices. “We’re offering the opportunity to work in Century City or in our Newport Beach office,” says Seth Aronson, head of O’Melveny & Myers’ Los Angeles office, two blocks north of Latham. Meetings at clients’ offices are encouraged, as are flextime schedules. “Playing it by ear” is a popular expression, and even secretarial temps can recite the phone numbers for their respective firms’ hotlines. “We’re reminding everyone that messenger services or UPS may not be reliable,” says Woodhouse. “We’ve announced that the attorneys’ dining room will be open to everyone for the week,” adds Jordan. “Whatever else happens, you can bet that the crowds will make it impossible to get into the regular restaurants around here.” Some of downtown’s major employers, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, are preparing to shut down their offices in the central city. The State Bar’s Los Angeles offices, including the State Bar Court, opted to close early each day this week because they’re located only four blocks from the Staples Center. There’s also the fact that security at the Transamerica Building — in which State Bar offices are located — is expected to be on high alert because it’s believed Vice President Al Gore and President Bill Clinton will arrive at the convention via the heliport atop the 32-story tower. “We felt it would be very difficult for people to get in and out,” Scott Drexel, the State Bar Court’s San Francisco-based administrative officer, said Friday. Offices will be open only between 8:45 a.m. and 2 p.m. each day. They normally close at 5 p.m. Some discipline hearings had to be rescheduled, Drexel said, and litigants in all cases were notified about the limited work hours in case they needed to file papers. Besides wariness of the huge crowds expected for the convention — which begins at 3 p.m. each day — there were also fears that protests could break out. Employees’ safety was another factor for closing early, State Bar Court Presiding Judge James Obrien said. “Yesterday I was going to buy a paper, and they’d moved the paper racks,” Obrien said Friday. “It gives me some suggestion that [police] are expecting something.” But the law firms are planning to stay open. “We really don’t see ourselves as a target,” says Prentice O’Leary, who heads Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton’s downtown L.A. operations. On the other hand, he notes, the firm was shut down in 1992. So his floor wardens recently completed an update on Sheppard, Mullin’s once-every-April review of earthquake provisions of food and water.

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