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Jack Williams, the managing partner of Thacher Proffitt & Wood, has gone from being a lawyer to a counselor and a carpenter. His first concern is the well-being of the staff of the 160-lawyer firm, whose headquarters on the 38th, 39th, and 40th floors of the south tower of the World Trade Center were turned to dust and debris in the terrorist attack. His second is, in his words, to rebuild the firm “from the ground up.” At press time, all but eight missing staff members at the 160-lawyer firm were accounted for. But all tangible evidence of the firm’s presence in New York had vanished: desks with handwritten notes, computers with drafts of documents in progress; calendars with court dates penciled in. Williams says that the firm routinely backed up its computers but that it had nonetheless lost some data. “We think we’ll be able to reproduce most of our documents from our clients,” said Williams. Clients, he says, have been amazing. “We’ve had a tremendous outpouring of sympathy from clients, which has been really gratifying,” he said. “We’ve had offers of space, offers of any kind of help. … The cooperation from everyone has been enormous.” The firm has already ordered servers and computers, redirected phone calls to its White Plains, N.Y., office, and is currently trying to get its e-mail system up and running. The search for new offices in the city will start soon. Thacher Proffitt wasn’t prepared for the ultimate disaster. Few firms would be, says Robert Dolinsky, a law firm technology consultant at Arlington, Va.’s Potomac Consulting Group. While most firms backup their data and move it off site, far fewer test those backups routinely. For the past two years, Dolinsky has been advising firms to put in place a disaster recovery plan: a detailed map of how to rise again if the worst happens. Few firms ultimately pay the price. Dolinsky estimates that a 100-lawyer firm would have to spend $20,000 to $40,000 to prepare a detailed contingency plan that anticipates everything that Williams is now facing. Yesterday morning, Roger Zissu, a name partner at intellectual property boutique Fross, Zelnick, Lehrman & Zissu, arrived at his office, across from the United Nations, with all the questions that consultants like Dolinsky has been urging firms to think about. As it turns out, Fross, Zelnick backs up data nightly and moves it off site weekly. “I think we haven’t really focused on” disaster recovery, Zissu says. The New York office of Rochester’s Harris Beach & Wilcox was located on the 85th floor of south tower. By Wednesday afternoon, several staff members were still missing, according to the firm’s managing partner, Gunther Buerman. But its computer data was intact. “We have backups of every document created through Monday stored on servers in Rochester,” said Gunther. “We’re still fully in business.” The firm is coming up with real estate for its 113 New York City employees, 50 of them lawyers. A client had offered space in the city in midtown. Others will work from the firm’s offices in Newark and at Gainsburg & Hirsch, a recently acquired firm. Philadelphia’s Drinker Biddle & Reath’s 16-employee office in the north tower did not suffer any human casualties. The sole employee on premises at the time carried a flashlight and walked down 89 floors after the door of the office blew in and the ceiling collapsed. On Tuesday, James Sweet, the firm’s chairman, sent a letter to all clients of the New York office saying that they would be serviced from the firm’s Florham Park, N.J., offices, where the lawyers will temporarily relocate. Computer files were saved. Papers were lost. Sweet anticipates that the firm will be visiting courts, clients, and opposing counsel to recreate paper files. Any firm located below 14th Street in Manhattan was affected since all businesses in downtown were ordered shut. This included heavyweights such as Sullivan & Cromwell, Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, and Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. All three firms had set up offices out of small, auxiliary offices in midtown Manhattan, and had rerouted all phone calls through these offices. Firms were working hard to make sure their lawyers could check e-mail or access documents stored internally. Cadwalader was doling out laptops to those attorneys who had left theirs in the office on Monday night. Cleary was preparing its Washington, D.C. attorneys for the potential arrival of lawyers from Manhattan. Many of the large firms had disaster plans in place. Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, for example, established one shortly after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. “Right away, we established a midtown office that we could use as an emergency bunker,” said Ava Thorin, the firm’s director of client development. “We don’t use it much, but right now we’re incredibly glad that we have it.” A few years ago, Cleary, Gottlieb did the same thing. “We decided that in an event like a fire or a blackout, we absolutely had to have somewhere else in Manhattan for us to go,” said managing partner Peter Karasz. So it purchased a small office in midtown. According to Karasz, the plan hasn’t worked perfectly. “But we have a place to coordinate everything, and we’re very close to giving all of our attorneys access to our network.” Mark Voorhees and Mike Godwin also contributed to this story.

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