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Virtually every private-firm lawyer in New York participated in the post-Sept. 11 recovery effort — with cash and pro bono services, and very often both. Many cases were dealt with quickly: expedited death certificates, lease negotiations, business interruption insurance claims and the like. But many more will drag on, perhaps for years. So much pro bono effort was made — and continues to be made — that producing a comprehensive tally is nearly impossible. Among the untold stories of New York under siege is that of the Smith family (not their real name) and the briar patch of legal troubles that befell them. And how a team of lawyers from Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft responded to a plea from an overworked Legal Aid Society attorney to resolve the family dilemma. The story illustrates the ripple effect of an enormity known as “9/11.” Mr. Smith operated an independent concierge service with contracts at downtown Manhattan hotels. When his clients’ property was destroyed in the terrorist attacks, so was his business. Mrs. Smith, meanwhile, had recently begun receiving unemployment compensation after leaving her job. To put it mildly, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and their seven children were financially pinched. Then it got worse. The New York State Department of Labor ruled that Mrs. Smith had made fraudulent claim for unemployment compensation. Contrary to what Mrs. Smith said — that she had voluntarily left work — the labor board contended she was fired with cause. Bottom line: no more unemployment checks, the Smith family’s sole source of cash. Next came the landlord with notice of eviction from their Staten Island home. Christopher Lamb, director of Legal Aid’s Staten Island office in St. George (six attorneys and three paralegals), said the Smiths had always made timely rent payments. But the landlord claimed they had reneged on an agreement to buy the multifamily house, rented floor-by-floor as the Smith brood increased. The Smiths countered that they were forced to tap their down payment fund to meet daily living expenses. “The landlord made quite a few mistakes in serving and drafting the [eviction] papers,” said Lamb, who was assisted in noting these fatal errors by Cadwalader lawyers Debra Brown Steinberg and Deborah Levine. “I had the luxury of having a large firm write the briefs for me. They did lovely work.” So lovely that the suit was withdrawn. “Once we were arguing the motions, the judge’s take on the issue was pretty clear,” said Lamb. “The landlord’s attorney saw the handwriting on the wall.” Meanwhile, the Cadwalader team had filed appeal to the labor board. Shortly after securing the Smiths’ home, the lawyers won reinstatement of Mrs. Smith’s unemployment compensation. “The employer was dishonest in characterizing what happened,” said Levine, a litigation associate. “The [state administrative law] judge found the employer evasive in testimony during the [original] hearing, and reversed the finding of fraud.” HOLISTIC APPROACH Steinberg, a Cadwalader partner, said her firm’s work on behalf of the Smiths exemplified the “holistic approach” to pro bono that has developed since September. “Victims of 9/11 have waves of need,” said Steinberg, who has devoted nearly all her time since the terrorist attacks to pro bono activity. “In the Smith case, we had to provide them some sort of stability in terms of housing and in terms of family finance.” The family is not eligible for the various benefits for people who lost loved ones, but they may be eligible for future public and private aid, said Steinberg, adding that her firm would continue working on behalf of the Smiths. Having bought the Smiths the breathing time necessary to get back on their feet financially without having to worry about a roof over their heads, Steinberg and Levine guided the family to a permanent home just last week. “We haven’t done the house inspection yet, but we do have a mortgage commitment and a binder agreement,” Steinberg reported. “So, assuming there’s no termites, we have a happy ending here.” PRO BONO NICHE One corporate attorney has fashioned herself something of a pro bono niche: getting cash into the pockets of devastated small-business operators. Hollis Gonerka Bart, a business litigation partner at the New York office of Ross & Hardies, is still personally dragging in customers to the Continental Shoe Repair Shop on Barclay Street. When his walk-in business clientele ran for their lives in the terrorist attacks, and did not return for weeks, things looked bleak for proprietor Salvatore Iacono. He confessed, “I tell you the truth, there was a time when I said to myself, ‘Sal, this is it, this is the end.’” But Bart brought him every shoe in her house to cobble and shine. And then in cheery e-mails — “United we stand! With shined shoes, we march forward with pride!” — she cajoled hundreds more of her attorney colleagues and corporate clients to do the same. Then, with the coming of the Tribeca Film Festival in May, Bart was at it again — this time on behalf of roughly 1,000 taxicab companies, many of them teetering near bankruptcy as the result of lost business in downtown Manhattan. With the help of volunteer attorneys with the Small Business Initiative established by the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, Bart worked with the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) to set up temporary taxi stands at six locations during the film festival. Drivers could wait at the designated areas for prospective passengers in need of hustling from one screening venue to another. “Greetings!” Bart said in her post-event e-mail to colleagues. “This is really quite something, particularly since it was done in less than three weeks’ time. The deputy commissioner informed me that … the only other time [it] has been done was in the weeks following the Sept. 11 attack [when] arrangements were made so that families attending the memorial service could leave via cab. “The TLC, though, really got behind this project, as they understood that this was an important way of affording taxi drivers with a much-needed opportunity to generate revenues.” And what of the Internal Revenue Service? What would happen to the nation’s tax collections if all those downtown Manhattan waiters were unable to file income tax returns because their earnings records were destroyed when the restaurants where they worked were crushed by falling debris on Sept. 11? Cadwalader tax attorneys David Miller and Jason Osborne were a bit surprised when they received a call for help from Jamin Sewell, general counsel of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union, Local 100. “So here was the union membership, a bunch of out-of-work people who nonetheless knew they had a responsibility to fill out their tax forms,” said Miller, a partner at his firm. “It’s rare for our regular client base to ask us what to do when they don’t have W-2s. So with this pro bono project, we learned about an area of tax law we might not otherwise have known. The attorneys visited the waiters and kitchen help. Osborne, a 26-year-old associate, remembered the scene: “Half the room were English-speakers, the balance were Spanish-speakers. So we had a translator.” As best — and as individually — as they could, Miller and Osborne worked up income estimates based on existing payroll stubs and personal calendar notations by workers and supervisors, then entered the data on IRS Form 4852 statements — substitutes for employer W-2 forms. “But I don’t think this neatly wraps it all up,” said Osborne. “Our firm will continue to help, as needed.” What is certain to continue for a long while is the case of Marmily Cabrera, the unusual pro bono mission of Helen Macfarlane, a senior litigation associate at Shearman & Sterling. Cabrera’s common-law husband of 10 years, Pedro Franklin Checo, died in the World Trade Center collapse. Despite having two children together, joint bank accounts and a joint mortgage on a home in Queens, Cabrera has been unable to obtain financial relief from the federal Victims Compensation Fund because New York is one of a handful of states that does not recognize common-law marital status. Nor can Cabrera claim life insurance benefits as a spouse, despite her contention that she is named as a beneficiary to Checo’s policy. After the World Trade Center fell, said Macfarlane, thousands of personal documents were lost. The employer had the record of insurance beneficiaries, she said, but the insurance company did not. Again, New York’s refusal to recognize common-law marriage is at issue. In her fight on behalf of Cabrera and her children, Macfarlane insists it is intrinsically unfair that spouses who live in states where common-law marriage is recognized have received federal funding. She and Kenneth Feinberg, special master of the federal fund, are currently in negotiations. Meanwhile, Macfarlane awaits decision on a petition she filed with the Surrogates Court of Queens, asking that Cabrera be named a legal spouse — based on documents of a long family outing in Pennsylvania, which recognizes common-law marriage. At stake is a potential payout settlement from the federal fund, which under clear circumstances might provide a widowed mother such as Cabrera as much as $1.5 million. “We will not be wholly excluded,” said Macfarlane. “We will get a significant amount in settlement because it’s in nobody’s interest to litigate this forever.” Afghans, too, were victimized by Sept. 11. Their country, already bombed and strafed into the Stone Age by the Soviet military, once more became a battleground, as U.S.-led coalition forces routed the Taliban, the theocratic dictatorship that protected the terrorist al-Qaida organization and its fugitive Saudi leader, Osama bin Laden. Here in New York and across the United States, Afghan-American professionals gathered to discuss what they could do to aid the reconstruction effort abroad. With the help of a team of lawyers at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, the Global Partnership for Afghanistan will soon become a not-for-profit agency with the mission of coordinating mainly U.S.-based economic and agricultural redevelopment assistance. Skadden partner Dana H. Freyer led the effort to incorporate the agency. Assisting were Skadden partners Bertil Lundquist and Alan Straus, associates Hala Audi and John Caccia, and legal assistant specialist Tina Albano. The Skadden team has only begun its work on behalf of Global Partnership. “Before the Soviet invasion, Afghanistan was virtually self-sustainable,” said Freyer, who worked for the Afghanistan mission to the United Nations in the mid-1960s. “What’s happened now is that the country has been stripped of its trees, and desertized.” Freyer and her team have set up initial meetings among Afghan professionals who fled their country in the 1980s and potential U.S. corporate and individual backers for the purpose of restoring Afghanistan’s natural environment, and introducing modern agricultural methods. Additionally, Freyer has reached out to former Peace Corps volunteers. Besides her Skadden colleagues, Freyer is aided by a former Afghan diplomat from her U.N. days — Mohammed Anwarzai, now a naturalized American working with the Afghan ministry of foreign affairs in Kabal. What a lawyer might regard as a very small matter of pro bono work can have a major impact on the client’s life. But for James H. (Jay) Sullivan, a young litigation associate at White & Case and relatively new to pro bono work, exactly such a small matter had a major affect on him. Soon after Sept. 11, Sullivan was assigned the pro bono case of a woman grieving the loss of a loved one killed in the World Trade Center collapse. The woman’s affairs were in disarray, including her apartment lease, and she was in no state of mind to handle what to her was the impossible burden of dealing with worrisome correspondence from her landlord. The correspondence was in English. The woman, who speaks only Spanish, thought she was being evicted. All Sullivan had to do was place a few telephone calls on her behalf. “That was it. Problem solved,” said Sullivan. “But you should have seen the gratitude in that woman’s face. As I’m talking about it right now, as I’m remembering what it meant to her, I’m shaking.”
Related articles: Working Pro Bono Forges New Ties The daily practice of pro bono law in New York, like so many other things in the days and weeks following last year’s terrorist attacks, has radically changed. Private Firms Help Out in Many Ways Within days of last September’s terrorist attacks, New York’s legal community responded in record numbers to the city’s critical needs. Here’s a selection of private firm pro bono service in 2001.
This is the second installment of four in a series on post-Sept. 11 pro bono in New York. The remaining articles in the series will appear here in the next week.

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