Lawyers spend their lives analysing, managing and controlling risk, but last week we all contemplated the unimaginable.
Days on, and still the conversation is of nothing else. Even the simple greeting of "how are you?" provokes a pause, or a sigh and a "where were you when you heard?". Again and again last week, people relived the emotions of the moment as they recounted hearing the appalling news for the first time. And then there were the other stories - the partners who had a 10am meeting booked at the World Trade Center, or the lawyers who took an early plane over Manhattan on that blue Tuesday morning, and who looked down at the twin towers, little realising that by lunchtime the buildings would be dust and that nothing would be the same again. Everyone seemed to spend most of Tuesday evening watching the same images again and again, burning themselves on to our brains like some nightmarish version of Groundhog Day. And the three-minute silence last Friday seemed to have been scrupulously observed by most (though the PR executive who sent through a press release at two minutes past eleven last Friday morning should be ashamed of himself). When catastrophe underwriters think of a worst-case scenario, they envisage the spectre of two jumbo jets colliding over New York. That sort of risk has now been surpassed in the most grisly way possible, and the insurance market has been poleaxed, but thoughts of actuarial issues seem indecent at the moment. As one reinsurance lawyer said: "There's little stomach for consideration of the insurance issues the industry faces. It's the scale of the human tragedy that is taking everybody's attention." All of a sudden last week, UK lawyers felt themselves to be part of a community with lawyers on the other side of the Atlantic. People who had barely heard of Sidley Austin Brown & Wood were asking anxiously whether the firm had managed to evacuate all of its staff. Others wondered distractedly whether Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton's building was about to collapse. US firms in London were besieged by calls from UK firms asking if they could help in any way. Throughout the pages of The Lawyer, we talk an awful lot about globalisation. This normally boils down to which firms can make what sort of money in which far-flung country. Last Tuesday, television and the web evoked a visceral and entirely collective response. All of a sudden, globalisation meant something different - something not economic, but emotional. Catrin Griffiths, editor