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Sept. 11, 2001 It was pretty much your typical morning. Support personnel and attorneys were walking in amid muffled conversations. The smell of fresh coffee was wafting down the hallway. The first-year associates had arrived the previous day, energizing the whole firm with an eagerness to embark on their new profession. Optimism was in the air. I don’t know about you, but I had my priorities straight. I was focused on a 10:30 a.m. meeting for which I was still unprepared. This meeting was a big deal — I had even placed a Post-it above my phone, reading “9/11: 10:30 am, Conf. Room 21D.” I am trying to concentrate when my secretary, Paula, has the nerve to be talking on the phone, gossiping with some friend of hers who works downtown. I don’t know what her friend’s gossip is, but judging by Paula’s reaction, it must be a whopper. Paula puts her hand over the receiver and calls out to me (will these distractions never end, I wonder impatiently). And then I learn what Paula’s friend has just witnessed. She is still on the phone when the second plane hits — she relays the news in disbelief. Now, phones are ringing all around us, and people are coming into the hallways. “Have you heard?” … “Are you serious?” We are in midtown, so there is no talk of immediate evacuation. Instead, everybody heads to the big conference room where the TV is on. We watch in silent horror. Those with friends or relatives in the towers are going through the nightmare of uncertainty and useless phones. For them, our firm has set up a crisis center. For the rest of us, the shock and horror is giving way to a dawning realization: We are the lucky ones. By midday, associates and partners are sharing information about blood donations and emergency relief. I join a group of fellow litigators going to the local blood center. There, we run into groups from the other departments, and friends from other firms. The blood center is overwhelmed — we are told to come back the following day. Sept. 12 Attendance at the firm is strictly voluntary today. For me, the presence of even a few colleagues beats an empty apartment, so I come in (my parents and siblings are out of state, so that was not an option). Not that any work gets done. At 9:15 a.m., I get an e-mail from an associate who is collecting coffee and dry clothes for the rescue workers. This is the first of many such e-mails. Over the next few days, colleagues would donate blood, supplies, money and time to various relief efforts; they would distribute flags and hold candlelight vigils. These colleagues, who, just days before, were still being collectively tarred with the brush of “greedy associates” turn out to be some of the most generous people around. Ditto for support staff and partners. The wind has shifted. Twenty-four hours ago, the smell had been coffee. Now, the acrid dust from ground zero permeates the building. This is no day to work. Sept.13 The firm is open for business. Much of the day is spent reacquainting ourselves with the people and things we thought we knew. Friends, colleagues, clients, opposing counsel — it is impossible, absolutely and totally impossible, to discuss anything until each of us knows how the other was affected. The same conversation is replayed thousands of times: “Where were you when … ?” “Did you know anybody who … ?” And gradually, a few basic questions about business: When will the courts open? What about cases, deals, deadlines? At this point, it is still difficult to imagine returning to our old tough-talking selves. But we have to move on. We are the lucky ones. Sept. 14 The firm comes to a standstill for the noontime memorial service. The same conference room where most of us witnessed the tragedy is now where most of us watch the service. There are tears and hugs; shock is dissolving into grief. The afternoon brings the TGIF syndrome, magnified a thousand times. Never has there been such a desire to put an end to a week. There is new version of the Friday farewell: “Have a safe weekend.” Sept. 17 With the world watching to see if New York can get back on its feet, the morning starts as briskly as ever. You might not know anything had changed — but for the fact that our bags are now searched on the way into the building (and not a word of complaint about that, either). I meet with some of my colleagues to map out a brief. As we struggle to focus on the task at hand, we sense a turning point approaching. Amidst the feelings of grief and helplessness, there will be comfort and satisfaction in getting back to our profession. Sept. 19 The slow march back to normality continues. Sometime during the afternoon, as I am clearing away some papers, I discover the Post-it that had been stuck to the wall: “9/11: 10:30 am, Conf. Room 21D.” Today, Conference Room 21D is occupied by a client that has been displaced by the disaster. In the evening I go to a small candlelight vigil with some attorneys from other firms. At about 8:30 p.m., I head back to the firm, for I am suddenly very busy again. In the silence of my office, I think about how I will be here late; how I will eat dinner at my desk; how my colleagues will mark up and critique whatever I write this evening; how there will be more late nights ahead. And this: How incredibly lucky I am. Adam Freedman is a senior associate at Schulte Roth & Zabel.

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