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New Orleans attorneys who have landed in the Atlanta area are trying to figure out how to continue practicing law from Georgia — in some cases temporarily and, in others, permanently.Plaintiffs’ lawyer Maury A. Herman, who is working out of Atlanta for now, is eager to get back to a trial that had been under way in New Orleans before the hurricane hit.The New Orleans lawyer was representing divers from an offshore drilling barge that was hit by Hurricane Roxanne in 1995 when Hurricane Katrina interrupted what was to be a two-month trial.Herman, who owns homes both in New Orleans and in Reynolds Plantation, east of Atlanta, hopes the trial will reconvene in Houston. Although he is working out of Atlanta, his firm has set up temporary headquarters in Houston, and both his co-counsel and the two defense attorneys practice there, too. The Orleans Parish judge is willing to try the case in Texas, said Herman.”The problem,” he said, “is that all of our trial files and equipment and models are sitting on the third floor of the New Orleans civil district courthouse, so we have to wait until we can get back into the city and retrieve them.” To make the midtrial venue switch, Herman said, the lawyers will have to get special permission from the Louisiana Supreme Court and likely from the State Bar of Texas and the Texas Supreme Court.Lawyers relocating to Atlanta who want only a temporary perch from which to serve their existing clients can do so without any problem in Georgia, said the State Bar of Georgia’s director, Clifton A. Brashier Jr.But those who want to start a new life practicing Georgia law will have to get a Georgia Bar license — and the only way to do that is to take the State Bar exam. With the next exam in February and no results until late May, it will take at least nine months for a Gulf Coast lawyer to start practicing in Georgia. The problem, explained Hulett H. “Bucky” Askew, the director of the Georgia Office of Bar Admissions, is that Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama do not have reciprocity agreements with Georgia by which a lawyer licensed in one state can get licensed in the other without taking that state’s bar exam. The unique nature of the Louisiana legal system, which is based on the Napoleonic Code, not British common law, means that learning Georgia law could take some time, Askew added.Applications to take the Georgia exam are due Oct. 5 and require “a good bit of documentation,” Askew said, including employment history and educational transcripts. “I think it will become a complicated situation,” said Askew, acknowledging the trouble many Gulf Coast lawyers could have in obtaining background information from damaged or decimated employers and universities. He said the bar admissions office would handle documentation problems for displaced applicants on a case-by-case basis.William P. Smith III, the Georgia Bar’s general counsel, said there are no plans to make exceptions for hurricane victims who want to get a Georgia Bar license without taking the exam.”The fact that you’ve experienced a disaster does not make you automatically qualified to take on Georgia clients and advise them on Georgia law,” he said, explaining that the restrictions on practicing in Georgia are to protect the state’s citizens.Askew said his office has received a lot of phone calls from Mississippi and Louisiana lawyers asking if Georgia offers reciprocity, but “the minute they heard ‘no,’ they hung up.”"My guess is that they are calling a number of states trying to find a place where they can transfer their practice fairly simply,” he said.Unlike Georgia, Texas will grant licenses to out-of-state lawyers who meet certain requirements without making them take that state’s bar exam.”We’ve had a ton of calls from lawyers seeking reciprocity,” said Kelley Jones King, a spokeswoman for the State Bar of Texas.Lawyers who’ve been practicing for five of the last seven years and pass a background check can apply for a Texas Bar license, said Julia Vaughan, the director of the state’s Board of Law Examiners. She estimated that displaced lawyers who meet the requirements can get a Texas license in six to eight weeks. That includes the time needed for background checks. If local records are unavailable because of the disaster, the Texas Bar will use Internal Revenue Service records for employment history and the Federal Bureau of Investigation database for criminal checks, she said.It’s easier for lawyers to start a practice in Texas but harder to set up a temporary office there. Unlike Georgia, Texas Bar rules do not allow visiting lawyers to continue their practice from Texas — but the Texas Supreme Court on Friday issued a 30-day waiver to the rule, which Vaughan said likely will be extended. KEEPING THE FIRM ALIVEHerman, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, is lucky. His firm’s offices, about four blocks from the Superdome in New Orleans, sustained only a little damage from the rain and did not flood, he said. And his firm, Herman, Herman, Katz & Cotlar, which his father and uncle started over a half century ago, will be able to maintain its practice while waiting for the flooded city to return to life.The firm’s 60-person staff, including 13 lawyers, is safe but scattered across eight states. The firm, which does a mix of plaintiffs’ and business law, intends to operate from satellite offices in Atlanta; Houston; Destin, Fla.; and either Baton Rouge or Shreveport until it is possible to return to New Orleans, Herman said. The firm is setting up a computer network to connect the makeshift offices. Unlike many other firms hit by the hurricane, Herman, Herman, Katz & Cotlar has the client and financial data it needs to keep running. Backups of the firm’s files and insurance policies were taken to Houston by the firm’s office administrator. And, in what turned out to be good fortune for the firm, its bookkeeper and his family took refuge in its building the Monday night after the hurricane hit. When they evacuated the next morning, after the levees broke, they took the financial and accounting data that the firm needs to operate, Herman said.The New Orleans lawyer — along with the three other Herman, Herman, Katz & Cotlar lawyers and paralegals who fled to Atlanta — will use offices in an affiliated plaintiffs’ firm in Atlanta: Herman, Mathis, Casey, Kitchens & Gerel. Luckily, Herman and his wife already have somewhere to live. The Hermans waited out the storm at their new home in Reynolds Plantation, east of Atlanta. Last spring, they sold their house in New Orleans, which is now underwater, and their new residence there, a condominium, is on high ground near the Superdome.Herman said his firm would keep employees on the payroll at least until the end of September and hopes to retain all of them if they’ll relocate.”We have a huge organizational problem and issues to overcome,” he said — but fortunately the firm does a significant amount of work outside of New Orleans, which means it still has clients who can pay their bills. STARTING OVER IN JONESBORODianna L. and Jean E. Lavidalie Jr. did not fare well in New Orleans but count themselves lucky now. The house they were renting and the law firm where Jean Lavidalie worked — on Canal Street near one of the levees that broke — were both destroyed in the flood. Jean Lavidalie was a lawyer for a small firm, Riguer J. Silva APLC, that catered to the local Hispanic community. His clients also have been scattered by the flood. The Lavidalies, who have a 3-year-old daughter, decided to make a new life in Atlanta because of a notice that Dianna Lavidalie spotted on craigslist.org, a bulletin board on the Web.A Jonesboro firm, Fincher & Hecht, posted an ad offering a paralegal position to a hurricane victim. Lavidalie, who is a paralegal, interviewed for the job on Friday and was hired on the spot. When she told the firm that her husband was a lawyer, they hired him as well. Jean will share Dianna’s paralegal position, a perfect arrangement, she said, since it will give him time to study for the February Georgia Bar exam. “The whole community has been phenomenal,” said Dianna Lavidalie, adding that she’s relieved and happy that the hurricane has swept them into Atlanta. She said Atlanta is “more family-oriented” than New Orleans. “If I had chosen a place to live before the hurricane, this is what I would have chosen.”The Lavidalies, who are staying at a local motel, drove to Atlanta with nothing more than what they’d been able to put in their car. Fincher & Hecht’s computer consultant, Yong Kim, offered his house as a temporary home until renovations are finished on a rental property that he owns, where the Lavidalies then will settle. “Everyone at the firm, from the attorneys to the receptionist, has been awesome,” Dianna Lavidalie said. Some of the firm’s employees have donated clothing for the Lavidalies and toys for their daughter. The family attended a Little League game over the weekend with firm partner Gregory K. Hecht and his family.After learning from the firm’s staff that a nearby church was serving meals to hurricane refugees, the Lavidalies have made it their own. Parishioners there took them shopping for work clothes and other necessities. Even strangers who noticed their Louisiana license plates have stopped and offered the family money, said Lavidalie. “We plan to be here for the rest of our lives,” she said. “It’s the place that we’re supposed to be.” CROWDED BATON ROUGE R. Harold McCard Jr., a lawyer with the New Orleans firm Chaffe McCall, has not figured out where he’s supposed to be yet. He and his wife took refuge with friends in Atlanta after the hurricane hit and are back in Jefferson Parish right now, salvaging what they can from their home.McCard spent about a decade in Atlanta as the general counsel of Ridgeview Institute before relocating to New Orleans four years ago. His firm is operating out of its Baton Rouge, La., office, but McCard has not decided if he and his wife will relocate there or if he will try to work remotely from Atlanta. He’ll be traveling to Baton Rouge to confer with his firm but said that it was hard to make any long-term plans. “We’re making this up as we go along,” he added.Only one displaced lawyer, James L. Quinn, has called so far to express interest in taking the Georgia Bar exam, said Askew of the bar admissions office.Quinn, 26, a New Orleans native, had just started practicing law in May as in-house counsel at a hotel company in the Crescent City.He is considering relocating to Atlanta, where he has friends and family, because he can’t afford to wait for his home city to rebuild. “I think it’s going to be OK, but it’s going to take some time and I have student loans,” said Quinn, a graduate of Tulane University and Loyola University’s law school. He explained that getting a job in Baton Rouge, where he already would be licensed, does not sound promising because it’s already swamped with lawyers. “It’s going to be disorganized there for a while, too,” he pointed out.”I have a sense that most displaced lawyers will end up in Texas,” said Paul M. Talmadge Jr., who is heading the Atlanta Bar Association’s hurricane relief effort along with another former Atlanta bar president, Paula J. Frederick, the deputy general counsel for the State Bar of Georgia.Houston and other Texas cities offer admiralty law and oil and gas work, making them a better fit than Atlanta for many Gulf Coast lawyers, said Talmadge, who heads The Partners Group, an Atlanta legal recruitment firm. Because of the practice differences, he said, “we don’t do a lot of recruiting out of New Orleans for people to come to Atlanta.”But Sheri H. Kornblum, another recruiter at The Partners Group, said she’s already talked to two New Orleans lawyers — one from a big firm and the other from a 30-person insurance defense group — who want to move to Atlanta permanently.”People are going wherever family and friends are,” Kornblum said, explaining that one of her clients has a sister in Atlanta and the other is already licensed in Georgia.

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