Brad Karp; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; New York Brad Karp of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; New York. Photo: David Handschuh

At the end of a destabilizing week that saw a torrent of event cancellations and business closures across the U.S., Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison chairman Brad Karp found himself thinking about the millions of Americans that will soon be staring down the economic impacts of the growing coronavirus crisis.

While federal, state and local officials, along with the nonprofit sector, have pledged to make a number of resources available to help those in the need of either immediate or long-term assistance, the scope of the options and the steps needed to unlock them is bewildering.

Karp hit on the idea of enlisting the firm’s attorneys to make sense of the programs for public assistance that are either in place or coming online.

“As these programs are rolling out, I believe we’re going to be able to help these individuals access emergency resources that would otherwise be unavailable,” he said.

On Saturday afternoon, he sent a firmwide email looking for volunteers to build a “swat team” to make sense of these resources. Within two hours, over 350 attorneys at the firm had responded by pledging their assistance. Another 25 to 50 have volunteered since the start of the day Monday.

“I’ve been chair of this firm for 13 years,” Karp said. “There’s nothing I’ve seen that compares to this.”

The firm has organized its response into five different teams: federal programs, New York state programs, New York City programs, state programs outside of New York, and private and charitable organization programs. Another team will draft templates, FAQs and forms concerning each program.

After reviewing and summarizing the resources available in each of these categories, Paul Weiss lawyers will staff hotlines on a 24/7 basis to answer questions that emerge. Initial efforts will focus on the New York City region as well as Washington D.C.

Karp added that the firm is working with banks, professional sports leagues and teams and the firm’s private equity clients—with dozens of portfolio companies—to get the word out to hourly workers.

He also hopes that the firm’s effort will strike chord with others in the legal community, like when he and Lowenstein Sandler chairman and managing partner Gary Wingens succeeded in mobilizing 34 other law firm leaders to take action against the Trump administration’s family separation policy.

While Karp is expecting his firm’s lawyers to spend over 2,500 pro bono hours a day on the effort, that’s not nearly enough.

“I think in the U.S. we’re going to need thousands of lawyers to step up and work with us on this,” he said.