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Stephen J. Dannhauser used to spend his days darting back and forth between meetings with clients and partners at his Fifth Avenue law firm. Nowadays, the executive partner of New York-based Weil, Gotshal & Manges shuttles between funerals and meetings with donors who want to give money to the relatives of firefighters and police officers killed in the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center. Like many other law firms, Weil Gotshal has risen to the occasion. But Dannhauser has a special connection. For the past six years he has served as president of The New York Police & Fire Widows’ & Children’s Benefit Fund. Although Weil Gotshal isn’t located anywhere near the epicenter of the disaster, the event has, for now, transformed a law firm famous for its tough litigators, well-respected bankruptcy practice and Wall Street dealmaking. It’s not as if the 70-year-old firm doesn’t have a lot of other things to do. The firm is acting as counsel to Sunbeam Corp. in its Chapter 11 bankruptcy and is defending Sotheby’s Holdings Inc. against U.S. government charges that the auction house conspired with a rival to fix prices. (Sotheby’s pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay a $45 million fine.) Weil Gotshal ranked 10th on the dealmaking league tables for law firms for the first six months of this year, with 49 deals worth a total of $39.8 billion. The firm worked on the merger of MediaOne with AT&T Corp. and the acquisition by SBC Communications of Stirling Commerce. Currently, the firm is representing General Electric Co.’s NBC unit in its $1.98 billion purchase of Telemundo Communications Group Inc. With such a full plate, former Mets outfielder and pinch-hitter extraordinaire, Rusty Staub, who founded the widows’ fund 16 years ago, said of Dannhauser and Weil Gotshal: “I don’t know how his firm devotes so much time to this [the charity].” Displaced from his own Battery Park residence by the attack, Staub is now working in the conference room next to Dannhauser’s office. “My building is fine,” Staub said. “I just can’t get in. It ain’t about me. I will survive all this.” “We’ve taken over two or three of his conference rooms,” Staub said. He explained that all of the approximately 366 families who lost a police officer or firefighter in the disaster will receive a check for $10,000 that is immediately given out by the fund for line-of-duty deaths. But, money isn’t the only form of help Weil Gotshal is providing. A team of secretaries from the firm has gone down to the New York City Fire Department headquarters to help the agency that lost so many members. Lawyers at the firm are drawing up death certificates, giving estate advice and creating pamphlets about bankruptcy for small businesses hit by the disaster. Inside the firm’s offices, across from the Plaza Hotel, boxes of letters with donations line conference rooms. A big blue Sesame Street doll peeks out from one of the 10 boxes packed with more than 200 stuffed animals and dolls. They were originally headed to firehouses, which are now overloaded with such gifts. The firm will send the toys to children in hospitals instead. When the planes hit the twin towers, Dannhauser and several top partners decided to send the staff home after making sure no one at the firm was killed or missing. They also planned a service the Friday following the disaster, inviting Staub and several police and firefighters. And the firm’s lawyers set to calling clients straight into the night. Dannhauser made calls to senior managers realizing that they might have difficulty housing people. “Many of our clients took us up on the offer,” he said, citing Lehman Brothers Inc. and Merrill Lynch & Co., where his son and his fianc�e work. Clients displaced by the attack have taken over most of the newly renovated 28th floor of Weil Gotshal. The firm has made space for 200 additional people. “Clients are usually demanding,” said John Neary, Weil Gotshal’s executive director. “In this case they were grateful and as cooperative as possible.” Some clients brought their laptops and cell phones, while others had nothing. “We bought or rented equipment for 70 to 80 desks,” he said. Some of those desks have been for 60 employees of Lehman who work in the corporate audit and transaction management department, which does the documentation for derivatives trading. They were working on the 27th floor of the World Financial Center until the attack. “Our buildings are completely unavailable,” their boss, Lehman general counsel, Joseph Polizzotto, said. “They’ve been there literally from the first week. We’ve been made to feel incredibly welcomed. I can’t say enough. It’s been a slow but steady process.” With the influx of extra personnel, the firm’s attorneys and other employees began doubling and tripling up in offices. On the 34th floor of the firm, filing cabinets and credenzas have been moved into hallways and other common areas. A litigation support station has been converted into space to receive letters and donations. Money has also been rolling in at Weil Gotshal. In Dannhauser’s office sits two oversized, cardboard checks — one from Credit Suisse First Boston for $5 million, the other received Wednesday from Deutsche Bank AG for $9 million. The German bank devoted to the fund all of its commissions made on the day the stock exchanges reopened. As a firm, Weil Gotshal has raised about $1.3 million. So far, Dannhauser — no neophyte to fund raising — has garnered more than $30 million for the widows’ and orphans’ fund. Historically, the fund been helping between 400 and 500 families and raising no more than $2 million per year. But after Sept. 11, “The response has been extraordinary,” Dannhauser says. That’s good, because the obligation will also be huge. “No one is going to become wealthy because of this,” he said. “It will be well over 800 families that we will be providing for.” Still to be held is the annual fund-raising dinner at the Hilton Hotel in Manhattan on Nov. 19. Many of the firm’s lawyers and other staff people have helped in various ways. David Schwartz serves as counsel to the firm’s capital markets group, working on initial public offerings and high-yield debt. But the Upper East Side resident is also a volunteer emergency medical technician. He typically works one weeknight from 7:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. Indeed, two days after the attack, he was down at Ground Zero for more than 48 hours. “When I got there it was nighttime,” he said. The soot, the powerful lights and the whir of generators gave the scene a “ghostly and eerie” glow, he recalled. “It looked like a movie except it was real,” he said, shaking his head. “We had gone down there for medical triage” but there was no one to save, Schwartz said. Instead, he helped treat rescue workers for cuts and bruises and firefighters for exhaustion and dehydration. Finally, he was pulled into a bucket brigade to help clear debris. At first Schwartz thought he was working on the north tower. “There was so much devastation, I couldn’t tell.” It turned out he was working on the south tower. Approximately 2,000 workers combed through the wreckage. But when a whistle announced the hope that a survivor might have been found, “the entire area just went dead silent,” he said. By early Friday morning, it started to rain. It had been hot and smoky. “It was hard to breathe and hard to see,” he said. The south tower was just a pile of rubble. When the rain turned into a deluge with lightning, officials “called everyone off the pile,” he said. The rescue workers, cold and soaking wet, were given fresh clothes. While Schwartz faced the physical challenge of Ground Zero, his Weil Gotshal colleague, Jackie Haberfeld, a litigation associate, took on an emotional one. She volunteered to help create death certificates for families of those killed or missing in the attack. Haberfeld spent between 40 minutes to three hours per family at the city’s emergency relief center at Manhattan’s Pier 94. The center provided every type of public service, from Social Security to counselors to childcare to therapy dogs to massages. “I’ve sat with 40 families maybe,” she recalled. She found herself asking grief-stricken family members difficult questions. “When was the last time they spoke to their now-missing loved one? How did they know that the person was in the World Trade Center? What have they done to find the missing person since that time?” From Sept. 26 through Sept. 28, approximately 900 death certificates were processed. “In the first three days the people that I saw were family members who were above [where] the first plane hit or they were people in dire financial need,” Haberfeld said. “Their primary wage earner was missing.” And she witnessed a myriad of emotions pass across the faces of the people before her. “You see fear, you see anger, you see sadness, confusion — people who are completely shut down,” she said. “The grief is incomprehensible. There are hundreds of people walking around with tremendous, tremendous loss and grief. It’s the emotional Ground Zero.” Letters and donations have poured in from as far away as New Zealand and Russia. Children have drawn pictures of flags, firefighters and buildings on fire, expressing sorrow for those who perished. And the law firm’s volunteers read each and every letter so they can write thank-you notes. One volunteer is Ronnie Groth, a mother of a firefighter and wife of a policeman who was lucky not to have lost either one. As she reads the letters, she said, “Your eyes fill up and you cry.” Copyright (c)2001 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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