WTC victims rebuff legal charity efforts

New York authorities have estimated that 14,632 businesses in the area close to the World Trade Center were destroyed, damaged or disrupted in the terrorist attacks of 11 September. Since then, the New York State Bar Association has sent volunteer lawyers from New York’s top firms to man legal advice desks at four small business emergency centres across the city.
But White & Case partner Laurence Pettit, who helped devise the scheme, said that they have dealt with fewer than 500 cases so far.
The small business pro bono scheme was devised by the New York Bar and lawyers from firms including Davis Polk & Wardwell, Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, Strook & Strook & Lavan and White & Case.
Pettit said that between 10 and 20 top New York firms are now involved. But he added: “The lawyers who want to help could potentially outnumber the clients who want legal advice.”
Pettit thinks that it is probably too early for many of these small businesses to start dealing with legal matters. “At the moment, people’s first priority is insurance and their finances,” he said.
It is not only pro bono lawyers that are finding small businesses slow to come forward for help. It is estimated that only a third of small business losses will be covered by insurance. The Small Business Association has offered emergency loans to fill these gaps, but by 15 October only 1,800 businesses affected by the terrorist attacks had asked for loans.
Pettit said that the creators of the small business pro bono scheme would soon meet to discuss the slow response. He said that they would not consider asking lawyers to provide general voluntary services instead of pro bono legal advice.
“You have to stick to what you do best,” he said. “The best chefs in New York have been standing on the sidewalk handing out gourmet roast beef sandwiches to people who need food. We want to hand out the legal version of those gourmet roast beef sandwiches.”