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Among the rosy scenarios of associate life painted by campus recruiters is this one: eager beavers may take a short-cut through long legal apprenticeships by taking part in their firms’ glorious pro bono agendas. Some would question the career advantage of working on the side of the angels on company time. Some might even scoff. But do not count Gregory M. Krakower or Christopher Van Tuyl among the skeptics. In fact, the two young associates at Clifford Chance are highly enthusiastic about their chances of winning the day for a down-and-nearly-out restaurant client — and of perhaps making new law. All because of a seemingly simple pro bono case that wound up educating them in a hurry about the courtroom, a place neither one had ever been. Their complex motion before the Civil Court of New York City, a pending case involving a question of first impression, may have implications for hundreds of small business owners in lower Manhattan who find themselves financially strapped as the result of last year’s terrorist attacks. At issue in Marina Towers Associates v. Steamers Landing, 77101/02, an eviction proceeding, is whether a business establishment functionally destroyed by the collapse of the World Trade Center suffered a “casualty,” obliging the landlord to grant rent abatement and make structural repairs until the worst is over, or whether damage suffered is a “condition” or “aftermath” for which the tenant is fully responsible. Among the city’s veteran attorneys waiting anxiously for Judge Cynthia S. Kern’s ruling on the motion is Hollis Gonerka Bart, one of several lawyers consulted by Krakower and Van Tuyl through the Association of the Bar of the City of New York’s Small Business Initiative, a special pro bono program. “This case is going to have a significant impact on a lot of tenant-landlord disputes,” said Bart, a litigation partner in the New York office of Chicago-based Ross & Hardies. “I think it’s extraordinary that these two young lawyers have stepped up. They’ve been tenacious,” she said. “I told them, this is your baptism by fire.” The case began with what appeared to be a quick and straightforward pro bono opportunity, initially undertaken by Van Tuyl, 27, a first-year corporate associate at Clifford Chance. Nothing about representing Steamers Landing seemed much different from hundreds of other landlord-tenant negotiations commenced in the wake of Sept. 11. According to court papers, Steamers was forced to close for seven months while its owners, determined to remain downtown, spent $248,000 in renovations, including more than $43,000 that they claim should be charged to the landlord as structural repair. In addition, the restaurateurs sought rent relief totaling about $34,000, which went unpaid during the inoperable months. Counsel for Marina Towers, part of the LeFrak Organization, saw things differently. “We got sued, and it totally caught us off guard,” said Van Tuyl, a graduate of Duke University School of Law. “Essentially, they’re suing for rent, plus all repairs, cleaning and everything — and they want to evict!” Van Tuyl appealed to Teresa Schiller, 33, a senior litigation associate and 9/11 pro bono coordinator at Clifford Chance. In turn, Schiller hooked up Van Tuyl with Krakower, 30, a third-year litigator. The two men had never met. Krakower, a graduate of Columbia Law School, said of the landlord’s legal action against his client, with reference to the events of Sept. 11, “I don’t think it’s in the spirit of how the governor and the mayor have asked people to treat one another.” Opposing counsel, Queens attorney George H. Norelli of Pennisi, Daniels & Norelli, argues in court papers supporting a summary non-payment proceeding that the restaurant premises is several blocks away from the fallen World Trade Center, and was affected, not by the “direct action of the terrorists,” but, indirectly, “in terms of debris and blocked access. “A tenant who fails to abandon the premises is not relieved of the independent obligation to pay rent, even if the landlord is alleged to have failed to make certain repairs on the premises. … Clearly, for the period wherein the Respondent may have been deprived access by law enforcement, the Respondent remained obligated to pay their rent.” Krakower responded in court papers that the restaurant was covered in papers, soot, debris, glass and other contaminants that originated from the fallen World Trade Center. The heating ventilation and air conditioning unit, electrical wiring and lighting fixtures were also covered, the doors and windows had been shattered, and a flood apparently originating from the health club above the restaurant caused much damage, short-circuiting the electrical system that controlled the restaurant’s heaters and several refrigeration units. “Tenants could not have operated a restaurant under these conditions,” he said. “[L]andlord’s position that what happened to Steamers Landing was a ‘condition’ and not a ‘casualty’ is contradicted by established case law, formal definitions and ordinary use.” The judge will decide the law, of course, perhaps in a month or two. But Krakower and Van Tuyl have already made their decision about the experience. LARGE RESPONSIBILITY “It’s very, very rare for a corporate associate to be handling litigation,” Krakower said of Van Tuyl. Of himself, he added, “It’s pretty rare for a third-year to not only interview witnesses but draft the entire brief, argue the case in hearing and get broad leeway from the firm to treat these [pro bono] clients as if they were million-dollar clients.” Big-time clients would expect to pay accordingly for the hours worked by Krakower and Van Tuyl. “We would have a bill that would easily rack up to $200,000 if these were paying clients,” said Krakower, whose late hours at the office spent writing and researching necessitated his showering and shaving at a nearby gym. “The resources we’ve had here [at Clifford Chance] have been amazing,” said Van Tuyl, who along with Krakower spent many evenings meeting with their clients at Steamers, where they consumed plenty of free calamari. “We’ve involved people in our real estate group, several from litigation, and a summer associate [Natalie Pierre-Lewis, a third-year student at Harvard Law School].” ‘INFECTIOUS’ ENTHUSIASM Dennis J. Drebsky, the supervising litigation partner at Clifford Chance, said the enthusiasm of Krakower and Van Tuyl was “quite infectious.” The firm, he added, was “quite happy to allow them to explore as deeply as they did” in a case he also saw as having a potential for wide application. Other Clifford Chance partners who assisted in the cause were Warren Feldman and David Djaha. Also consulted was Michael Richman, of Richman & Fingerhut. “Frankly, it’s sometimes difficult to get associates to do pro bono work because they think it’s going to be drudgery, or that it won’t help them in their development,” said Drebsky. “These two saw the personal benefit, and the difference they could make in a time of trouble in our city.” “Well, is there anything more important than 9/11?” asked Krakower. “Why do people go to law school anyway?”

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