Lone Star Legal Aid office on fire as a result of Hurricane Harvey

Three firms and a nonprofit veterans/military assistance agency in Houston are providing free office space for lawyers and staff from Lone Star Legal Aid, which can’t use its downtown Houston building  for at least six months because of a Hurricane Harvey-related fire.

Paul Furrh, chief executive officer of the legal aid organization, which is one of the largest in the country, said Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, McGuireWoods, and Latham & Watkins have made space for the temporarily displaced workers. Others are working at Combined Arms, a nonprofit for veterans and active military personnel, and the last group in leased space in a downtown Houston building.

Paul Furrh

“We owe a great debt of thanks to all of them,” Furrh said about the firms that are donating office space.

He said about half of the agency’s 240 lawyers and staff work out of the agency’s largest office in the building Lone Star owns in downtown Houston. Some of the group of lawyers have been in temporary space since early September, but management and accounting staff will move into the Latham offices on Nov. 13.

Lone Star’s building on Fannin Street burned on Aug. 28, while Hurricane Harvey was still drenching Houston with rain. Furrh said water got into the electrical utility vault outside the building, which caused an explosion and the fire. He said repairs and restoration of the building will take about six months and cost between $2 million and $3 million.

The three employees of the Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic are working at the Vorys office in Bank of America Center, and 24 employees in the Equitable Development Initiative units, which do environmental justice, fair housing and community advocacy work, are working out of  McGuireWoods conference space on the 75th floor of the JP Morgan Chase Tower. Lone Star’s management and accounting staff will move into a half-floor in Latham’s offices in BG Group Place.

Sean Wheeler, former office managing partner for Latham in Houston, said the Houston office is a longtime supporter of Lone Star, and the firm provided space for a training session for lawyers shortly after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas on Aug. 25. That was around the time he and Tim Fenn, the office managing partner, learned about the agency’s need for office space. Wheeler said he and Fenn discussed it, and realized the firm could offer up some space because it has half a floor that it won’t need to use for about six months.

The firm currently has 85 lawyers on 2.5 floors, according to Fenn.

Wheeler said Latham’s real estate department and executive committee approved the temporary sublease. “The firm was very willing to have them in the space,” he said.

Jay Hughes, managing partner of McGuireWoods’ Houston office, said Houston associate Siohban Ray was volunteering at a disaster recovery center after the hurricane and learned about the fire and Lone Star’s need for office space. Hughes said firm management in Virginia supported his request to provide conference room space to the Lone Star staff, and the firm shipped a bunch of phones to Houston for the legal aid workers. The Lone Star people were working out of McGuireWoods’ offices by the second week of September, Hughes said.

“We are all looking for ways to help. The easiest way for us to help the most people is to help these people go back to doing their jobs,” Hughes said.

Stephen Browning, managing partner of the Vorys Houston office, said the firm and BP are sponsoring Equal Justice Works fellow Lisa Virgen, so it makes sense to provide space for Virgen and two others who are working at Lone Star’s Low-Income Clinic. He said the firm, which has 20 lawyers in Houston, had just enough extra space to accommodate the legal aid team.

“There wasn’t anything to it other than being a good community citizen,” Browning said.

Furrh said that despite the fire and the fact that 24 of Lone Star’s employees were flooded out of their homes or apartments as a result of Hurricane Harvey, the agency has continued its work.

Lone Star Legal Aid serves people in 72 counties of eastern and Gulf Coast regions of Texas and also four counties in southwest Arkansas.