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There will be bigger deals run this year by the lawyers at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft; one, for instance, promises to shift the tectonic plates of the pharmaceuticals industry. But none will be more personally satisfying than the Halloween night closing of a $182,000 mortgage on a four-bedroom house on Staten Island. Nearly 13 months in the making, that deal took the firm’s lawyers into venues seldom seen from the backseats of livery cars. On behalf of a badly distressed family, the lawyers mastered the folkways of New York’s housing court. Three times they stiff-armed an eviction and then became mortgage brokers, trolling among the city’s tertiary lenders to finance a permanent home. After the papers were finally signed, the family, bearing sleeping bags, settled immediately into their new home. And the Cadwalader lawyers returned to their offices on Manhattan’s Maiden Lane, uncommonly satisfied. “We were just thrilled,” says Deborah Levine, the eighth-year associate who handled the closing. What sets this tale of good deeds apart is that the family involved had lost its principal business — a small concierge service in lower Manhattan — in the World Trade Center disaster. Two months ago, in our special report on the legal fallout from 9/11, we explored several aspects of the extraordinary outpouring of pro bono help. What’s less well known is that while the spotlight has moved off ground zero, the pro bono work continues. As is our custom each December, we devote a portion of this issue to the state of pro bono work in the nation’s biggest firms. The conversation changes a bit each year. During the new economy boom, some lawyers feared that client demand would push aside volunteer work. At the best firms, that didn’t happen. Now the fear is that between layoffs and idle hands, pro bono might once again suffer. That appears not to be happening, but it’s a matter that might irritate partners who see their hours-for-hire dwindle. At Holland & Knight, for instance, the questions were taken seriously enough that earlier in the year the firm studied the issue — and concluded that pro bono didn’t displace paying work. For nearly all firms, then, it becomes a matter of will, of choosing to pursue a greater good. In our special section, we spotlight White & Case’s rejuvenated pro bono program, one that’s starting to match its global reach [see " Rebuilding a Reputation"]. Also, we explore the growing interest in “holistic” pro bono, an approach that treats a poor client as a whole person rather than a set of discrete legal problems [see " The Big Picture"]. And once again we salute the top 10 firms from our annual July survey and briefly update their work [see " A Diverse Agenda"]. But we couldn’t escape the continuing 9/11 work. Consider the remarkable consortium of eight law firms put together by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest Inc., to represent the families of union members killed in the attack. “After 9/11 we started asking the logical questions,” recalls Michael Rothenberg, NYLPI’s executive director. “Who other than the Cantor Fitzgerald people were in need of representation?” His team approached officials of Local 100 of the restaurant employees union — it had Windows on the World’s staff — and of Local 32BJ of the service employees, which had some of Windows’s staff but also porters and building help in the area. To work with the 46 families, NYLPI recruited six firms: Cadwalader Wickersham; Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton; Debevoise & Plimpton; Herrick, Feinstein; Shearman & Sterling; and Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal. Several were leaders in the city’s pro bono community, particularly Cleary Gottlieb and Debevoise. But the lawyers were confronted with families in extremis and issues they’d never seen. In short order the families needed to file with the federal victims fund. They needed help with trusts and estates problems. And many faced excruciating immigration difficulties. “One thing that scares people about pro bono is that they’d like to help, but they’re afraid that once they’re outside their areas, they won’t know what to do,” says Debra Brown Steinberg, a Cadwalader Wickersham litigation partner. So the consortium reached out for expert help. Saralynn Cohen, Shearman’s pro bono coordinator, recruited a Mellon Bank in-house counsel to serve as an administrator in surrogate’s court. Cleary Gottlieb brought in Eisner LLP, an accounting firm. Cadwalader Wickersham reached out to an economist from Eco Stat LLC. Debevoise, facing a conflict from a major client with potential World Trade Center liability, turned to a plaintiffs firm, Zwerling, Schacter & Zwerling, to advise its families. “What’s so amazing is that no one said no to us,” Cohen says. For the touchy stuff, NYPLI recruited lawyers from Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, which specializes in the immigration problems of corporate America. Fragomen’s pro bono effort is at one of the dangerous intersections of American political life, where the good nature of the body politic meets immigration policy. To put it simply, several of the union families had questionable or no legal immigration status. While their dead relatives are celebrated in memorial and song, the survivors face deportation or difficult hurdles in gaining entry for a visit or pursuing their legal claims. Fragomen Del Rey’s lawyers have appeared at deportation hearings and lobbied Congress for legislative relief. “It’s a matter of getting congressional offices to focus on this issue,” says Gary Merson, a government affairs of counsel at the firm. “The further away from September 11 we get, the more the focus lessens.” Not for the lawyers. Debevoise’s lawyers, for instance, have logged 4,700 hours so far on 9/11-related cases and received an education in family relations. One case, according to partner Christopher Tahbaz, now involves competing petitions from two wives of a victim and a daughter neither had been aware of. It’s not just the rich who can make a hash of their lives — and for now, at least, not just the wealthy who can get the best legal talent to unscramble their affairs.

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