Hurricane Irma’s winds knocked a tree onto Fort Lauderdale lawyer Laurence Gore’s car, ripped the top off of his boat, and decimated many of the travel businesses in the Caribbean that have been his clients.
While Gore is lucky, considering Hurricane Irma claimed 42 lives and decimated the homes and livelihoods of many across the eastern Caribbean and Florida, the hurricane has taken a toll on his law practice. Like other small law firm owners in South Florida, his firm’s revenue and collections for the year have taken a hit because of the hurricane.
It’s still too early to say, but Gore estimates that his small international firm will face a $20,000 loss in revenue due just to his clients’ business interruptions. He didn’t have business interruption insurance, but he’s considering getting it in the future.
“Our clients aren’t going to be able to pay us for a while,” said Gore, founding partner of Laurence Gore & Associates, a Fort Lauderdale firm that focuses on travel law mostly for travel agencies, tour operators and restaurants, and has many clients in the eastern Caribbean. “They are in the tourism and travel industry and are having people cancel on them, so they can’t pay. We have to use whatever back up resources we have and obviously stretch out our payments to our suppliers.”
Jerry Sokol, managing partner of the Miami office of McDermott Will & Emery, said larger firms with a customer base that has greater geographic diversity are less likely to feel as strong an impact from hurricanes and other natural disasters. But even those larger firms can be temporarily affected.
“Certainly productivity was down in September as everyone prepared for the hurricane and the aftermath, which is obviously the priority,” Sokol said. “Whenever there’s a hurricane, productivity is going to take a hit. But the ability to work remotely mitigates the ability to bill.”
But for smaller firms like Gore’s, with many clients in the Caribbean, recovering from the storm is about a lot more than clearing downed trees and fixing damaged buildings. In addition to the likelihood that clients will not be able to pay for awhile, Gore, like many lawyers in South Florida, evacuated when the storm was looming, adding to a drop in his billable hours.
Because the situation in the British Virgin Islands is so dire and all the materials to rebuild come from offshore, it’s going to take a long time for those clients to rebuild, said Sequor Law Founding Partner Ed Davis, who conducts significant business in the Cayman and British Virgin Islands. But Davis noted that his clients with businesses in the islands are not actually based in the islands, so he expects the storm will not ultimately affect his firm’s collections. The firm did, however, lose billable hours because of Irma.
“It’s not insignificant for any law firm to lose a week of billings, but it could have been so much worse,” said Davis, whose staff was only able to return to work this week because the storm caused some damage to his office.
Gore’s Fort Lauderdale office went unscathed and he had power back by the middle of last week, but the associate in his Miami office was without power until this week. With the courthouse closed until this week, it has been hard to schedule even an emergency hearing, he said. The firm’s real estate work has also been hampered by delays because insurance carriers are flooded with claims calls. Billings are well behind, he said.
“Plus you have clients who are out of state who don’t understand you can’t get things done the way you used to,” Gore said. One client in Canada was upset he didn’t have his bond money back, but the courthouse just reopened, said Gore who hasn’t been able to speak directly with many of his clients still in the Caribbean. “We’re lucky to communicate here, let alone in the Caribbean.”