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Almost every lawyer in the path of hurricane Katrina had the wherewithal to get out of storm’s way. What they couldn’t do is take their offices with them. The large firms had disaster recovery plans — years in the making — to soften the blow. But solo practitioners and small-firm lawyers who lacked those resources have been blown across the country. No one knows where these attorneys will come to rest, and when — if ever — they will return. Bar associations and professional organizations around the country are raising money and listing offers of office space, housing and other assistance. Few of those dispossessed have accepted the help that’s out there, at least so far. Some say that is because many lawyers and support staff still have no e-mail and are out of touch. But most think it’s because people are still in shock and haven’t figured out their next move. Bill Rittenberg, a New Orleans criminal defense lawyer with Rittenberg and Samuel, has had dozens of offers of help from attorneys around the country. Traveling with his wife, Paulette, and two dogs, they’ve already bedded down in lawyers’ homes in Baton Rouge, La., Houston and San Antonio. “I had friends who traveled around in the ’60s with a woman, two dogs and a three-day supply of clothes,” said Rittenberg. “I never thought I would be doing it in my sixties.” As for his criminal practice: “Unless your clients are in jail, how would you know where they are,” he asked rhetorically. “I’ve been crying for a week. My practice is finished.” At least one-third of Louisiana’s lawyers — more than 6,000 — lost their offices, libraries, computers and client files. About 60 percent of them are in firms of 10 or less, said Mike Rubin, of New Orleans’ McGlinchey Stafford. Rubin was appointed by Louisiana State Bar President Frank Neuner to chair the Hurricane Katrina Legal Community Relief Fund. “They have no backup and few resources,” he said of small-firms lawyers. “The purpose of the fund is to help law firms — lawyers, staff and their families — get back on their feet. … As was the case with 9/11, you can get up and running with help from the courts and opposing counsel — only a very small percentage of practice involves in-court proceedings.” His understanding is that many small-firm personnel have fled to Houston; Baton Rouge; Dallas; Nashville, Tenn.; and Atlanta. The Texas Supreme Court will allow Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama lawyers to practice in that state for 30 days from its Sept. 2 order, without being admitted to the Texas bar. “My belief is that it is the goal of most lawyers to come back to practice in New Orleans,” Rubin said. MOST, BUT NOT EVERYONE Ellen Badeaux of New Orleans’ Ellen Cronin Badeaux wants to leave the state permanently if she can convince her New Orleans-born husband, she said from a Florida panhandle motel room. It took her 13 years to build up her five-person domestic relations and criminal law firm. “Now it’s all under water,” she said. “My domestic clients are going berserk — no judge, no court, no opposing counsel, nothing I can do for them. … A Colorado lawyer called me because he needed certified copies of a child-custody order. What a joke.” She won’t leave the area until she can get back to her office and home to salvage what she can and to facilitate transitions for her clients to other attorneys. While 88 of McGlinchey Stafford’s 200 lawyers were based in New Orleans, it had a disaster plan and had computer-server redundancies built in more than one state. “Three days before the hurricane the firm had made tentative commitments for apartment buildings and two additional floors of office space in Baton Rouge,” where they already had offices, said partner Anthony Rollo, who was based in New Orleans. Susan Tyler, a partner at McGlinchey Stafford, is a beneficiary of her firm’s foresight. She and her husband, Richard Tyler, a partner at New Orleans’ Jones, Walker, Waechtler, Poitevent, Carr�re and Den�gre, were about to close on two houses on the Monday the hurricane hit — a sale of their garden district home to a New York lawyer who was relocating, and the purchase of a new house. Neither closing took place. By Wednesday, both were in new offices, in new cities at their old firms, ensconced in one of 120 apartments that McGlinchey Stafford had rented and furnished. Jones Walker, a roughly 200-attorney firm, also had a disaster recovery plan. Criminal defense lawyers across the country have opened their homes and offices to colleagues and their families who are not as fortunate as Tyler. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers recently set up an electronic bulletin board to enable its 12,500 members to match up requests for assistance and offers of aid. More than a hundred offers have poured in. Some include paid work. James Bell of Knoxville, Tenn.’s Law Offices of James A.H. Bell offers office space for six, computers and office supplies. In addition, he and his wife, a pediatric nurse practitioner, offer a temporary home for a family with small children.

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