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Almost six months to the day that Philadelphia-based Drinker Biddle & Reath lost its New York City offices in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the firm has opened a new site in Manhattan just blocks from Ground Zero. The new location, 30 Broad St., 30th floor, is a little more than two blocks south of its former office on the 89th floor of the North Tower, or Tower One, of the World Trade Center. Since Sept. 11, the attorneys and staff have been working out of the firm’s office in Florham Park, N.J. No Drinker Biddle lawyers or staff were harmed when the commercial airliner slammed into the North Tower, just two floors above the firm’s offices. According to New York managing partner Matthew Farley, the firm was lucky on several counts. If the plane had hit the building only a few floors below, it would have most likely spelled doom for receptionist Dianne DeFontes, the only Drinker Biddle employee in the office at the time. The firm’s frantic, all-day search for DeFontes was chronicled in the November edition of The American Lawyer through a series of e-mails obtained from the firm. DeFontes walked down 89 flights of stairs, making it out before the building collapse, but she was not heard from until late that evening. A veteran of Shanley & Fisher, the Florham Park, N.J.,-based firm that merged with Drinker Biddle two years ago, DeFontes was also in the office during the 1993 bombing attack and made her way to safety in a similar fashion. Farley said the firm was also lucky that the plane hit the building so early in the morning, 8:46 a.m., when few New York lawyers are at their offices. There were also some fortunate twists of fate. Several staff members decided to take later trains to work, and another was sidetracked by a cosmetics sale in the building’s lobby. After the attack, Drinker Biddle was able to shift operations to the firm’s Florham Park office, only 15 minutes from Manhattan. Farley returned to work two days after the attack. The rest of the New York group resumed work early the next week, though some individuals who lived in such areas as Queens had to endure a much longer commute. One of the firm’s most immediate tasks was to recover paper files, which was done by reaching out to adversaries, clients and the courts — at least those who also didn’t lose their files. Farley estimated that the firm was able to replicate 95 percent of its paper files within 60 days. Drinker Biddle’s New York office extends the firm’s litigation capabilities into state and federal courts, regulatory agencies and arbitration forums. The New York litigation practice centers mainly on securities work but also includes products liability, commercial disputes, banking, employment and real estate litigation. The firm serves as counsel to major investment banking and stock brokerage firms in litigation involving their underwriting and broker-dealer activities. Shanley & Fisher originally moved into the 3,000-square-foot space, which housed 12 attorneys, in 1989. “Logistically it was convenient. … You couldn’t beat the access,” Farley said. Farley and his New York cohorts were familiar with being rendered homeless in such a sudden fashion. After the 1993 attack, the firm could not return to its office for two weeks. And when it did, lawyers and staff were greeted by about a foot of soot, Farley said. After Sept. 11, Farley said, there was no question that the New York lawyers wanted to get back to Manhattan; it was just a question of where and when. With logistics in mind, Farley said, the firm first began looking in the Penn Station area but could not find anything suitable there. So it turned its attention back downtown, where the lawyers and staff had many good and bad memories. “There were some people who said they didn’t want to be in a ‘target building’ again,” Farley said. “But there really wasn’t any consideration to which floor we would be on.” Two of the original New York lawyers have stayed in Florham Park, but not because they had any reservations about returning to the city. Farley said Drinker Biddle had decided to have only its litigators return, with the pair of transactional lawyers staying with their practice group in New Jersey. Farley said the new space is comparable in size to its Trade Center offices, so there is not much room for expansion. “When we expand — and notice I said when and not if — we will have to move in with the other group or [find a new space],” Farley said. “But we’ve got through this with a lot of love and support from people all over the country, as well as our colleagues at the firm — from the managing partners to the clerks.”

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