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Omer “Jack” Williams was a picture of grace under pressure after the terrorist attack on New York. The law firm he manages, the 160-lawyer Thacher Proffitt & Wood, was blown out of the sky on Sept. 11. Williams had to contact clients, assemble emergency partner meetings and find temporary offices for his attorneys and staff. He did all of this while awaiting word on eight employees that, as of press time, were still missing. “It’s a big job,” he said. “We have to rebuild our law firm from the ground up.” Almost, perhaps, but not quite. Fortunately for Thacher Proffitt and other, larger firms in the World Trade Center, they all routinely sent backup tapes of computer data to off-site locations. When catastrophe struck, none of these firms — including the New York offices of Sidley Austin Brown & Wood and Rochester, N.Y.’s Harris Beach & Wilcox — lost their institutional memories. In most instances, e-mail systems, document management repositories and financial and client records could be reassembled in a matter of days. “It’s taking some work, but we think we’ll have the major technological pieces put back together very soon,” Williams said. Philadelphia’s Drinker Biddle & Reath’s six-lawyer office in the north tower did not suffer any casualties. And because the firm backed up everything on its New York servers every day, Gerard Haubrich, the firm’s chief information officer, doesn’t think it will lose much data. “Since the mid-1990s, we’ve made a practice of copying everything over, every day,” Haubrich said. DAILY TAPES At Drinker Biddle’s New York office, daily tapes were made of everything stored on the office’s two servers. Monday through Friday, an outside vendor would stop by the office, pick up the tapes and whisk them to a storage facility outside Manhattan. At press time, the firm had yet to upload the backup tapes, but Haubrich said he felt confident that the firm would recover everything produced through the Friday before the attack. “The tapes for Monday hadn’t been picked up at the time the planes hit,” he said. “Otherwise we’d have data from Monday and the weekend too.” Other companies whose offices were destroyed apparently had the same idea. Boston-based Iron Mountain Inc., the largest document and data storage company in the world, said that by noon the day after the attack, over 60 clients — several of them law firms — had reported “declared disasters” relating to the World Trade Center and Pentagon events. At press time, Iron Mountain was taking documents to the companies by truck and car because of the air-travel ban. Kenneth A. Rubin, Iron Mountain’s executive vice president, said that some of the more prudent clients had gone to real-time data backup and recovery, enabling them to retrieve just about everything from Iron Mountain’s servers. Steve Falkin and Pam Hill work in the Chicago office of the Houston-based legal technology consultant Baker Robbins & Co. For several years, the pair has counseled law firms on preparing for disasters like fires and electrical outages. According to Hill, data recovery won’t be hard for the firms that were diligent about making backup tapes. “Ironically, getting new phone service is probably going to be a lot tougher than recovering most of the documents a firm’s ever produced,” she said. NEW AWARENESS Falkin expects that the attack will awaken those law firms that haven’t spent much time thinking about disaster preparedness. “Of course, no one ever dreams that getting hit with a 767 is within the realm of possibility,” he said, “but it just underscores the need for firms to have processes in place to cover disastrous situations.” Many New York lawyers said the disaster moved them to learn about their office’s disaster-recovery plans. Memos to that effect began to trickle through New York law firms’ e-mail systems the day after the attack. Roger Zissu, a partner at the New York intellectual property boutique Fross Zelnick Lehrman & Zissu, said he was not familiar with the details of his firm’s disaster-recovery plan until then, when he returned to the offices and started asking about the firm’s preparedness. His firm, just across First Avenue from the United Nations, already takes some measures to preserve files and data but “hasn’t really focused” on the issue, he said. He said it probably will now. Lawyers from other cities also began to think through their own worst-case scenario plans. Warren Agin, a partner in Boston’s Swiggart & Agin, said he would “locate both primary and secondary data servers off-site, with an on-site backup in case the office lost its [Internet] connection.” Of course, even the best-laid disaster plans of lawyers and prudent businessmen may come to naught. In the mid-1980s, Jonathan Wallace, a solo practitioner in New York, worked on an arbitration that was held in the offices of a disaster-recovery facility housed in a former train station under World Trade Center building one. “Financial firms all over Manhattan stored source or had hot backup systems installed there,” Wallace said. “After all, everyone figured, what could be safer than storing your code in a former railway station under WTC One?” Mike Godwin and Victoria Slind-Flor contributed to this story.

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