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Right after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, victims’ survivors were overwhelmed by shock and grief. Few were in any condition to think about death certificates or probate. But the survivors — many of them widows with young children — were soon confronted with a growing pile of bills. And all too often these were followed by the realization that the money they needed was still under the sole control of a spouse officially listed as missing. It was not surprising that lawyers — especially those with practices in trusts and estates — perceived these problems before the victims’ families did. What was remarkable was what they and their colleagues did about it. Many lawyers volunteered their services. And their clients weren’t limited to families. They included small businesses and not-for-profit associations. A client’s needs might be child custody arrangements or new office leases or insurance payouts. The attorneys volunteered in metropolitan New York, where the number of victims was largest, and in Washington, D.C., where families of Pentagon victims relied on their help. They were not alone, of course. Lawyers in other parts of the country also pitched in. But lawyers in the two areas most directly affected distinguished themselves in exceptional ways. Bar associations and law firms sublimated competitive instincts to band together. The Association of the Bar of the City of New York and the New York State Bar Association worked shoulder to shoulder with the New York County Lawyers’ Association and other county bars. Likewise, the District of Columbia Bar worked with the Fairfax Bar Association and the Law Foundation of Prince George’s County, in Virginia and Maryland, respectively. The needs in New York far exceeded those in Washington. Nearly 3,000 people perished at the World Trade Center while about 200 died in the Pentagon, and many more residents and businesses were affected. There was another big difference. Nearly all the Pentagon bodies were identified. So far, only about 600 of the World Trade Center victims have been found. Without a body, it can take years to obtain a death certificate. Consequently, the first large order of business in New York was helping families speed through the process. STREAMLINED PROCEDURES New York Gov. George Pataki signed an executive order to streamline procedures. Lawyers from the bar associations teamed with the city’s law department, health department and medical examiner’s office to create a plan. Though it looked good on paper, one question loomed when it was unveiled in late September: On short notice, would lawyers show up for a lengthy evening training session followed by long stints counseling families the next day? The answer came at that first training when 400 lawyers filled a meeting room at the city bar association and another 300 were turned away. Many who worked with families for the 45 minutes typically required to complete the necessary affidavits said they felt privileged to have the opportunity. “We’re not firemen. We’re not policemen,” says Michael Miller, president-elect of the New York County Lawyers’ Association, who spent many hours counseling families. “This is what we can do to help.” Once they had secured death certificates — to date, the medical examiner has issued 2,170 — the families could settle the estates. Volunteer lawyers were again available to help. Some families used the same lawyers; others dialed a hotline and the city bar arranged a meeting with a lawyer who assessed their needs and provided assistance or put them in touch with a lawyer who would. Some didn’t require referrals. Attorney David A. Smith knew a victim, the father of his daughter’s best friend. That case is one of 11 Smith is working on. In all, about 2,500 lawyers from 250 law firms and corporate law departments have donated their services. Helping families isn’t all they’ve done. The attacks inflicted a heavy blow on thousands of small businesses throughout lower Manhattan. Many are struggling to survive. The city bar association has coordinated legal help for them. Kevin Curnin, an associate who directs Stroock & Stroock & Lavan’s public service project, began planning the effort on Sept. 12. His firm’s offices are just blocks from ground zero, and its management resolved to move swiftly to help their neighbors. Curnin took a quick inventory of the needs, which included a visit to a nearby emergency relief center managed by the city. It struck him that the best approach would be to bring lawyers out into the neighborhood, so he set up a table staffed with lawyers at the relief center. The effort was joined by David Lakhdhir, a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, who organized meetings at his firm’s offices that Curnin attended. Chadbourne & Parke, White & Case, Davis Polk & Wardwell and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom quickly signed on. By late October, 80 law firms were providing volunteers at four walk-in clinics in Manhattan, where small-business owners visited to ask legal questions. According to Maria Imperial, who coordinates the city bar association’s pro bono projects, about 350 small businesses have availed themselves of the services. Hundreds of nonprofit organizations in the financial district also were damaged in some way, according to Sean Delany, executive director of the Lawyers Alliance for New York. His organization has offered its services to any nonprofit in need, Delany says. Close to 50 organizations have contacted them and about 30 have received services. AT THE PENTAGON Scott Memmott had been working at Shaw Pittman for only three months when the plane hit the Pentagon, but he knew right away some victims’ families would need private attorneys. Prior to his current job, he had served 14 years in the Coast Guard. He knew that civilian employees were not eligible for military assistance, so he began contacting people about donating services. The response was immediate and enthusiastic, he says. Within a week he was in touch with the D.C. Bar, where Maureen Syracuse, who directs its pro bono program, had already received dozens of e-mails and phone calls from lawyers asking how they could help. They agreed that Memmott and his firm would take responsibility for a telephone hotline, gathering information from families and referring them to lawyers. Syracuse then tracked the cases and offered lawyers support. About 75 lawyers from 25 law firms have volunteered to date and 70 cases have been referred. MILITARY HELP Even though the military was not obliged to do so, the judge advocates general for the Army and Navy offered legal advice to families of all the victims on the ground (families of the passengers received services from the airline). They still required private lawyers, however, because their military advisers were not licensed to practice law in local courts. The D.C. Bar’s Syracuse has seen a lot of pro bono work during her nine-year tenure, but she says Sept. 11 is different. “I have seen a real need to help,” she says. “It’s a need as opposed to a desire,” and not a bid for recognition or thanks. “I think people feel really fortunate if they were able to do something.”

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