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In what is apparently the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil, two planes crashed into the upper levels of the World Trade Center Tuesday morning. Both towers collapsed, with debris raining down over lower Manhattan and sending black smoke billowing throughout the city. In what appeared to be a nationwide terrorist attack, another plane crashed near the Pentagon in Washington shortly thereafter. A fourth plane, United Flight 93, a Boeing 757 from Newark to San Francisco, crashed in Pittsburgh, 80 miles north of Somerset County Airport. Government offices, the courts and most major private employers in New York closed by noon Tuesday, as they did in major cities across the nation. The Trade Center is home to a number of law firms. With communications circuits into and out of New York City overloaded with traffic, some offices around the country had difficulty determining the fate of their colleagues in New York. The largest law firm in the two Trade Center towers was the former Brown & Wood, which merged with Chicago-based Sidley & Austin to form Sidley Austin Brown & Wood on May 1. The Trade Center location had 600 to 700 employees, located on floors 54 through 58 of One World Trade Center, the north tower. All who were in the office were safely evacuated before the buildings fell, according to George Petrow, a New York-based member of the firm’s management committee. The firm closed all of its offices worldwide Tuesday, according to an announcement on its Web site. The firm had planned to move the 250 people who work in the former Sidley & Austin offices at 875 Third Ave. in midtown to the World Trade Center later this year, Petrow said. The firm has approximately 500 lawyers in New York. As of early afternoon, Rochester, N.Y-based Harris Beach, which has a 50-lawyer office on the 85th floor of Two World Trade Center, had conflicting reports about whether all its employees were safe. A contractor who was renovating the office thought everyone got out safely, but the office’s managing partner spoke to a receptionist just before their tower was hit by the second plane, about 25 floors below their offices, according to spokeswoman Hillary Guthrie. As of 1 pm, about 75 percent of the 113 people who work in the office had been accounted for, she said. The firm merged with Manhattan’s Gainsburg & Hirsch earlier this month, but those attorneys had not relocated to World Trade from their midtown offices, she said. Philadelphia-based Drinker Biddle & Reath has fewer than 20 employees, including about eight lawyers, in its 89th floor office in One World Trade Center. As of 1 pm, all but two had been accounted for, according to a firm spokeswoman. Calls to the Jersey City, White Plains and Washington, D.C., offices of Thacher Proffitt & Wood, which has 135 lawyers on the 40th floor of Two World Trade Center, were not answered. Firms miles away from downtown New York were also scrambling to find lawyers who were scheduled to be in and around the Trade Center complex this morning. Two lawyers from Rosenman & Colin showed up at the Trade Center for a 9:30 meeting, shortly after the first plane hit the building. They were denied access, and were out of harm’s way when the twin towers collapsed, according to Rosenman chairman Joshua S. Rubenstein. Another lawyer from the firm who was near the courthouses, several blocks away from the Trade Center, witnessed both planes hit the towers. “She’s just a mess,” Rubenstein said. Ninety percent of the firm’s staff lives outside Manhattan, and traveling off the island was difficult to impossible as of midafternoon Tuesday. “Everybody who does live in Manhattan has opened his or her home. We’ve made sure everyone is buddied up,” in case travel continued to be restricted, Rubenstein said. Kevin Goering, a litigation partner at Coudert Brothers, walked into the 44th floor midtown office of firm chairman Anthony Williams a few minutes after the first plane slammed into the Trade Center. That’s when “I saw a low flying plane coming in from New Jersey,” Goering recalled. “At that distance, the plane didn’t seem that big. Oddly, it seemed to be flying around the tower. I said, ‘What an idiot!’ Then it slammed into the tower and there was this huge fireball. By now, more and more folks at the firm were starting to come into Tony’s office and watch, when suddenly the first tower collapsed, and later the second went down. After that, we just stood there in awe.” This story will be updated throughout the day as additional information becomes available. Related Chart: Largest Law Firms in the World Trade Center Towers Related Map: Courts and Major Law Offices Near World Trade Center

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