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The first wave of 130 volunteer lawyers Wednesday began the necessary but heartbreaking task of helping families of victims of the World Trade Center attack prove that their loved ones have been killed. As of 5 p.m., the lawyers had helped 300 families compile affidavits establishing that their missing relatives were at the World Trade Center when the deadly attack occurred, said Assistant Corporation Counsel Anthony Crowell, the head of the New York City Law Department’s newly established World Trade Center unit. At that hour, said Crowell, who is leading a contingent of roughly 30 New York City lawyers involved in the effort, there was “virtually no waiting time” for family members hoping to see a lawyer. An influx was expected as people left work, but, he added, any family members who made their way to the assistance center on Pier 94 at 55th Street would be seen. For the families of the 6,453 persons who most likely perished in the attack, the preparation of these affidavits is the first step in starting a legal proceeding to have their relatives declared dead. A new streamlined procedure set up by court and city officials is designed to provide the families with quick access to their loved ones’ life insurance proceeds, pensions and other assets. For the volunteers, the task of helping the families focus on the unthinkable — that their loved ones are dead — was a gut-wrenching task. “There were tears all over the place,” said Michael Miller, a solo practitioner and the president-elect of the New York County Lawyers’ Association, who helped organize the volunteer effort. “You just had to take a break because of the horror. It was dreadful.” “It was much more emotional than I thought it would be,” said Jeffrey Tsang, a third-year associate at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, who said he had helped two women who had each lost a child in the attack. “It was pretty hard to sit there and do something that needed to be done, but that they really didn’t want to be doing.” “This is an unusually sad and somber place,” said Mitchell Epner, who was part of a contingent of 20 volunteers from Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy. Uncomfortable with describing what the clients were grappling with, Epner said only that ample use was made of the mental health professionals who have also volunteered to help the victims’ families at the city’s assistance center. SHORT NOTICE The lawyers, who reported for two five-hour shifts starting at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, said they were amazed at how organized the legal operation was, given that it was set up on barely 48 hours’ notice. Epner said that 60 interview carrels had been created with curtains out of the cavernous space within the pier building, which was the size of an “airplane hangar.” Each carrel had a desk, phone and computer terminal — many of the desks also had a bouquet of flowers, he added. However, because the computers were not working reliably until later in the day, the form affidavits were filled out by hand, at least initially, Miller said. The volunteer lawyers were among nearly 500 who were trained Tuesday evening at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. The City Bar had to turn away another 200 lawyers who could not be squeezed into the association’s Great Hall. Another training session is scheduled for Monday evening. “Faxes from lawyers seeking to volunteer are coming in faster than we can handle them,” said Alan Rothstein, the City Bar’s general counsel. Asked why he had volunteered, Epner touched upon a theme mentioned by several other volunteers: “They won’t let me use a crowbar. I’m not qualified to do that, but I’m qualified to do this.” UNLIKELY CONNECTIONS Several volunteers mentioned how connected the attack had made them feel with their fellow New Yorkers. Gary B. Friedman, of Greenfield Stein & Senior, said he had interviewed someone who, when she first married, lived just two blocks from where he grew up. Another person had worked at the same firm as a good friend of his. Friedman’s friend also lost several friends in the attack. Miller said he had interviewed a woman who had lost her husband, who was about his age. Miller added that his children were about the same age as those of the woman and her missing husband. “I was supposed to be at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 but was a half hour late,” Miller said, adding, “There but for the grace of God go any of us.” Crowell, of the Corporation Counsel’s Office, said that one city lawyer was designated to provide legal backup and help for each 10 volunteers. The city lawyers were also helping family members fill out affidavits and staffing a help line that family members can call. The four-page affidavit, drafted by city lawyers, requires family members to specify why they believed their loved one was at the World Trade Center when the attack occurred, and the efforts that have been made to locate them. City lawyers are also drafting master affidavits, with help from companies that had offices in the two doomed towers and American and United Airlines, listing who was present in the towers or the planes when the attack occurred. Crowell said that “hopefully the affidavits can begin to be filed with the court by the end of this week.” The process of helping families prepare the affidavits could go on for some time, but, Crowell vowed, the volunteer lawyer effort will continue as long as there is a need.

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