Cleanup was under way and traffic was light along Market Street in Philadelphia on Monday morning. (Max Mitchell)
Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia this past weekend meant law firm closures and, for some, more hype than proved necessary.
But for other law firm leaders, a few days of fewer billable hours was worth the benefit of elevating Philadelphia into the international spotlight.
“Yes we lost money, but certainly no regrets on our end,” said Gary DeVito, a shareholder of Zarwin Baum DeVito Kaplan Schaer Toddy. “Now we have the memory, and the status of Philadelphia was escalated.”
DeVito said his firm closed Sept. 25 and opened at noon Monday. He said it is difficult to be as productive when working remotely, so he was sure the firm had fewer billable hours Sept. 25. And he said, “You could have made [Monday] a full day for sure.”
“But as far as I’m concerned, Philadelphia had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to host probably the most powerful figure in the world,” DeVito said. “So to me, it’s a no-brainer.”
DeVito had a slightly different experience with the papal festivities than many others may have had. He spent most of the time being whisked from event to event by the Secret Service thanks to a friend of a friend—Ignazio Marino, the mayor of Rome. DeVito, Marino and their mutual friend, an Italian-born heart surgeon in Philadelphia, spent time at two of the city’s Italian restaurants this weekend and both were empty, DeVito said. He said he understood why Philadelphia restaurateurs were upset with the lost business, but he said he thought that was “shortsighted.”
With cleanup after this weekend’s papal visit happening faster than many expected, the law firms that waited until Monday to decide whether to open their Philadelphia offices were glad they didn’t decide to shut down prematurely.
“It seems like today was pretty much a nonevent given how the city had sort of prepared us for the worst,” Cozen O’Connor Chief Operating Officer David Ellman said Monday morning. “My sense all along was that it seemed like it was overkill and it made sense to wait.”
Ellman decided the night of Sept. 27 that the firm’s Philadelphia office would open up on a normal schedule.
“I saw they were taking down barriers even before Mass was over so people could depart orderly,” Ellman said of what he was looking for Sept. 27 to help make his decision. “That told me stuff was getting out of the way. Then I saw the westbound Schuylkill opened and that the Ben Franklin Bridge was going to open at 4 a.m. So when I saw all that stuff I thought, ‘This is going way better than I expected.’”
Cozen O’Connor sent out an automated phone and email message to attorneys and staff announcing the normal opening but letting people know the firm would be flexible given the various commutes employees have, Ellman said.
Ellman said the firm tried to take a practical approach to Monday’s operations.
“At the end of the day we are running a business,” Ellman said. “Quite possibly you could take away that the city scared people a little bit into doing things they otherwise wouldn’t do, probably out of an abundance of caution, but that’s why we waited.”
Blank Rome had also decided to operate on a normal schedule for Monday, with flexibility depending on the situation.
“It was difficult for anyone to predict what the situation would be for roads and transit this morning, which is why we made the decision to remain open and flexible today,” a firm spokeswoman said. “As originally planned, we are operating at normal capacity today and are glad that the morning commute did not present any major issues for our colleagues.”
But for some, predictability was more important. With so much up in the air, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney decided to set in advance a delayed opening for the Philadelphia office on Monday, CEO-elect Joe Dougherty said.
The firm technically opened at noon Monday, but Dougherty said most people were already there well in advance of that time.
“It’s pretty sleepy in town this morning but at the same token there is no problem getting in this morning,” Dougherty said Monday.
He said the papal visit was a “unique experience” and had everyone in the office Monday morning sharing their stories of what the city was like.
Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin had a two-hour delay Monday morning to allow employees to make their way in. Morgan, Lewis & Bockius announced earlier this month that it would open at 1 p.m. Monday. Reed Smith had said it would be closed the entire day. Requests for comment from Morgan Lewis and Reed Smith about Monday’s operations weren’t immediately returned.
All of the firms that spoke with The Legal said the closures Sept. 25, with attorneys and some staff working remotely, went smoothly. Some had raised concern in advance of Pope Francis’ visit that remote access systems would be taxed and might have trouble connecting. But while many firms haven’t tallied their hours billed for Sept. 25, they said they didn’t hear of any issues with remote access.