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As the final day to file claims with the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund draws near, the organization in charge of pairing victims with pro bono attorneys is scrambling for new volunteers. John Bailey, the executive director of Trial Lawyers Care, said 72 claimants sought volunteer attorneys from his office last month, compared with 55 in October. Seventeen more have come to the group in the first two days of December. As the Dec. 22 deadline looms, the pro bono group, started by the American Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA), has found that its supply of attorneys has run dangerously low. “We have no idea how many people are going to come in the door the last month,” said Bailey, who has been directing the organization for four months. “It’s becoming a shortage crisis.” About 1,000 trial attorneys from across the country have volunteered to represent victims and their families who are seeking compensation from the federal fund, according to Bailey. Those attorneys have been assigned to more than 1,500 claimants so far, with numerous attorneys taking on more than one case. Just two weeks ago, Bailey said, ATLA rounded up about 60 of its members to volunteer, and Trial Lawyers Care was able to reduce its backlog of claimants to zero. As of Tuesday, though, there were 19 claimants in need of an attorney, 13 of them from the New York area. Bailey said his group especially needed local lawyers, since many victims feel more comfortable having an attorney from the area. Also, he said, many of the late claims are injury rather than death claims, and attorneys from across the country are less inclined to fly to New York for relatively minor injuries. Edward C. Cosgrove, a Buffalo attorney and the chair of the trial lawyers section of the New York State Bar Association, yesterday issued a press release urging bar members to volunteer. “It’s a very urgent situation,” Cosgrove said in an interview. He said he had also sent a plea, via e-mail, to about 3,000 members of the State Bar who are trial lawyers. Connie Rubin, an attorney who has worked as a recruiter for Trial Lawyers Care since March, said she has regularly traveled to courts in every borough except Staten Island to encourage attorneys to take cases. Judges, she said, usually allow her to make a brief speech before a day’s calendar is called. “It’s a harder sell to make now that we have so little time left,” she said. “People are protective of their time and this is a pro bono job.” Kenneth R. Feinberg, who is special master of the fund, has said that victims will be in compliance with the Dec. 22 deadline if they fill out a brief application stating they intend to apply for compensation. “It takes very little time to fill out the primary registration form, but it can take 100 hours to do the case,” Bailey said. Trial Lawyers Care has five staff attorneys, including three who assist volunteer attorneys assigned to handle claims. Attorneys can sign up with the group at its Web site, www.911lawhelp.org.

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