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A combination of factors — a work start time after 9 a.m., the vagaries of a lawyer’s practice, a late morning at home — may have saved the lives of many law firm employees in the attack on the World Trade Center. As of Sept. 14, the Friday after the attack, three law firms were reporting only eight staff members still missing. They would not disclose the names of the missing employees. The eight were among 4,763 people who New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said were unaccounted for. According to the Office of Court Administration, 1,343 lawyers listed one of the two towers as their office address. The National Law Journal was able to reach 25 of the 30 known law firms listed as tenants in the Twin Towers, and 22 of the firms reported either that their staff had gotten out of the buildings in time or that no one was in the office at the time the airplanes crashed into the buildings. “When the plane hit, our conference room collapsed and a door blew out,” said Daniel O’Connell of Philadelphia’s Drinker Biddle & Reath’s 89th floor office at 1 World Trade Center, the north tower. The receptionist of the 16 office staffers was the only one there. “Our managing partner, Matthew Farley, was on the street below. One attorney was in the lobby, and three had just left the office.” The receptionist escaped the building before it collapsed. The five firms that could not be reached were either solo or small firms with no other known offices. Efforts to locate the attorneys through home telephone numbers were unsuccessful. (In addition, eight attorneys who were aboard the four hijacked planes died during the coordinated terrorist attack.) Apparently hardest hit was Rochester, N.Y.-based Harris Beach, which said that three attorneys and two support staff of its 113 New York employees were still missing. The firm was on the 85th floor of 2 World Trade Center, the south tower, and 80 to 90 employees were in the office when the Boeing 767 slammed into the building just a few floors above at 9:03 a.m. Partner Hal M. Hirsch said the most heroic escape involved a firm secretary who has asthma. “She passed out about 10 floors down,” he said. “A construction worker picked her up and carried her all the way down the stairs.” Ohrenstein & Brown, the firm founded by Manfred Ohrenstein, the former Democratic leader of the New York state Senate, said that all but two support staff had escaped from the firm’s 85th floor office in the north tower. “The horrible part is we have two people unaccounted for: one secretary and one data-entry person,” said partner Michael Brown. “We had a couple of people in the elevator who did make it out.” The third firm with a missing staffer is Sidley Austin Brown & Wood, whose 600 employees made it the largest legal tenant in the towers. It occupied floors 54 and 56-59 of the north tower. “Due to a combination of the timing and sequence of events, it appears that only one of our colleagues is clearly unaccounted for,” the firm said in a statement. IN-HOUSE LAWYERS Among the organizations or companies with in-house attorneys working in the two towers, one of the hardest hit in its legal unit was the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency that oversaw the World Trade Center. Two of the authority’s 75 attorneys are missing, as are two support staff, among the estimated 200 Port Authority employees still unaccounted for, said General Counsel Jeffrey Green. Cantor Fitzgerald Securities, an investment company — which had offices on floors 101, 103, 104 and 105 of the north tower — may have suffered more than 650 deaths. General Counsel Stephen M. Merkel and Sara Kober, vice president and assistant general counsel, were listed on the company’s Web site as having survived. Vice President and tax counsel Harry Waizer, who also survived, was hospitalized. Fiduciary Trust Co. — which had offices on floors 90 and 94 through 97 of the south tower — reported on its Web site that 90 employees were still missing, including Carol K. Demitz. A legal directory lists her as senior vice president and chief corporate counsel. GOOD TIMING For Leeds, Morelli & Brown, it was timing. On the morning of the attack, only a few clerical staff were in the office and they all made it out safely, and none of the firm’s 20 attorneys were there, said partner Lenard Leeds. And, he said, the next day the office would have been packed for a meeting with 100 clients. “We had such a close call,” he said. Ramon I. Constancio, a partner at the three-lawyer immigration firm Abad, Castilla & Mallonga, usually gets to his office by 8 or 8:30, but because his wife took the day off on Sept. 11, he “dallied” at home in New Jersey, reading the newspaper, he said. “My subway cars didn’t even open its doors, with the conductor saying, ‘We’re going back to Hoboken,’ ” he said. “ When I got out and looked across the river and saw what was happening, yes, I was sad and frightened. But first and foremost, I was angry.” New York’s Thacher Proffitt & Wood, one of the largest firms in the towers with 300 people occupying floors 38-40 in the south tower, suffered no casualties. One reason: Working hours start at 9:15 a.m. Only about a third of the staff was in the office when the first plane struck the north tower at 8:48 a.m. Real estate partner Don Simone was in his 40th floor office when the jet hit the other building. He saw debris rain down, but decided not to evacuate after hearing from a colleague that someone they believed was with the Port Authority said it was OK to stay in the building. Then his building was hit. “It rocked the building. It lurched me out of my seat,” he said. The lights went out. Ceiling tiles were cracking. Paint fell off the walls. “Literally, the ground moved. The whole building lurched,” he said. “The floor was shaking. There was cracking and crackling all around me.” It took him 15 minutes to get down the stairs. “I had three minutes there when I thought I was dead.” Martin Domb was checking e-mail in his firm’s library when he heard a loud noise and rumble. A partner at 20-lawyer Hill, Betts & Nash, Domb had an office on the north tower’s 52d floor. “It felt,” Domb recalled, “like an earthquake.” Fortunately, Domb said, few people were in his office. He grabbed a secretary and descended the stairs, passing firemen going up. Fred Van Remortel, an associate at two-lawyer Conway & Conway on the 33d floor, attended college in Los Angeles. He knew this was no earthquake. The rumble didn’t last. “The building absolutely shook,” he said. “And then the building started to sway and I thought the building was going to tip over.” Nervous laughter gave way to grim reality during his descent. “A couple of people were burned like you couldn’t believe,” he said. “The skin was peeled off their arms. The hair was burned off their heads. That’s when it really began to sink in.” This story was written by Peter Aronson and reported by Sam Adler, Gail Diane Cox, Alison Frankel, Alan Fisk, Peggy Fisk, Andrew Harris, David Hechler, David Horrigan, Ashby Jones, Maureen Milford, Mark Obbie, Tom Perrotta, Michael Ravnitzky, David Rovella, Amy Singer, Daniel Wise and Gary Young.

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