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On a Friday afternoon in a Manhattan synagogue, Stephen Merkel wasn’t in the mood to give any kind of perspective on the tragedy that befell his company and city. Merkel, general counsel for the brokerage firm Cantor Fitzgerald also didn’t feel like discussing the challenges he now faces. It was only a week and a half after the devastating Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and he, like most New Yorkers, was still in shock. “Maybe in a month or so there’ll be some time for reflection,” a weary Merkel said that afternoon. He had just attended the funeral of his deputy general counsel, David Weiss, whom he had hired about seven years earlier. Instead of thinking about the job of building a new department, Merkel said he remained entirely focused on the task of burying his former one. In the aftermath of that Tuesday morning, Cantor Fitzgerald, well known on Wall Street as one of the biggest bond traders, became perhaps better known as one of the companies hardest hit by the twin towers’ collapse. Out of Cantor’s 2,300 employees worldwide, roughly 1,000 occupied the top floors of One World Trade Center (the north tower, which was struck first). Of those, about 700 were missing, and presumed dead, at press time. Most of the survivors were believed to be either on vacation or not in the building at the time. Cantor’s chief executive officer, Howard Lutnick, was one of those who survived. His tearful appearance on television after the attacks helped burn Cantor’s story into the nation’s consciousness as the face of the financial world’s nightmare. Lutnick went to work late on Sept. 11, so he could take his son to his first day of kindergarten. When the CEO finally made his way to lower Manhattan, the two planes had already struck the towers, likely killing about 70 percent of Cantor’s employees, including Lutnick’s brother. The terrorist attacks did not spare Cantor’s law department, either. At least five lawyers from the small unit perished, including Weiss, 50, and assistant general counsel Arlene Fried, 49; Stephen Fogel, 40; Matthew Leonard, 38; and Robert Mace, 43. Law department survivors include vice president and assistant general counsel Sara Kober and vice president Francis Rushford. Vice president and tax counsel Harry Waizer, who also survived, was in critical condition at press time. Friends say that Merkel’s life may have been saved by a stranger on the street who asked for directions near the tower, delaying the GC just enough that he didn’t make it all the way to his office Tuesday morning. Merkel declined to confirm the story. OTHERS HIT The twin towers, each with 110 floors rising more than 1,300 feet, housed nearly 300 businesses and law firms. The towers’ biggest occupant, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., escaped with relatively few human losses. Out of roughly 3,700 people, including 200 law department employees, Morgan Stanley reported only six missing two weeks after the attack. And the biggest law firm occupant, Sidley Austin Brown & Wood, was, remarkably, able to account for all but one of its roughly 600 employees. When Merkel, 43, finally begins to direct his energy toward rebuilding his department, one of his primary tasks will be to recruit new lawyers. While it would seem to be a formidable job after the nightmare Cantor has endured, some lawyers close to the firm say that attracting attorneys won’t be that difficult, given the slow job market. And despite the devastating loss, the Cantor name is still prestigious in the financial community. In fact, one lawyer says he has already received phone calls from interested applicants. “Part of it is that they want to help out, but others see it as an opportunity to be part of a department that’s trying to rebuild,” says Richard Sharp, a name partner with the New York law firm Solomon, Zauderer, Ellenhorn, Frischer & Sharp, Cantor’s main regulatory counsel. But that’s for later. The law department that is gone is what most colleagues and friends continue to think about. Sharp, who has worked with Cantor’s law department for about eight years, praised the crew that “ran a tight ship.” “It was a law department that performed well beyond their numbers,” says Sharp. “Stephen [Merkel] knew he could rely on the fine people that reported to him.” Sharp, who befriended Weiss at the beginning of his professional relationship with Cantor, delivered a eulogy at his funeral. Sharp described the deputy GC as a loving father and husband, the Grateful Dead’s biggest fan, a motorcycle aficionado, and a sharp legal mind who was always one question ahead of everyone else. Sharp also said that Weiss was someone everybody wanted to impress. An associate who walked into Sharp’s office one day was wearing a big smile. When Sharp asked why he was smiling, he said that Weiss had complimented him on his work. Sharp also shared a few ironic quips Weiss had been known to make, including one on the subject of friendship: “My maximum time that I hang out with anyone is two minutes.” Sheldon Goldfarb, general counsel for Greenwich Capital Markets Inc., also eulogized Weiss, his friend since high school. He is another lawyer who could have been in the building, had fate not intervened. Goldfarb talked about how he had gotten an offer from Merkel to work at Cantor, which Goldfarb turned down. He recommended Weiss, who was then at the law firm Fulbright & Jaworski, instead. “I was really close to going,” says Goldfarb. For Cantor survivors, the scene at Weiss’ funeral was repeated with mind-numbing regularity, making the task of moving on especially difficult. The company’s Web site listed more than 350 individual funerals and several group services. While the firm has resumed trading operations, it will be some time before Cantor’s employees have said goodbye to all of their friends.

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