NY firms in WTC pro bono push

Top US law firms in the UK follow New York lead by offering free legal advice worth millions for victims' families

Families of the victims of the World Trade Center attack and small businesses destroyed in the blast are receiving free legal advice from New York's top firms.
At the same time, in the UK the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has set up a panel of UK-based US firms to provide pro bono legal advice to the families of the UK victims of the disaster. The panel comprises lawyers from Arnold & Porter, Dechert, Brobeck Hale & Dorr, White & Case, Brown Rudnick Freed & Gesmer and Davis Polk & Wardwell.
“The panel was set up at short notice to complement the work being done by American firms in New York,” said Nia James of the FCO consular division, who is spearheading the initiative.
Over the last fortnight, the Association of the Bar of the City of New York (New York bar) has rolled out a series of initiatives to help the bereaved and the economically disadvantaged in the wake of the terrorist attacks. Many firms are anticipating 100 per cent participation, an unprecedented level of involvement in a pro bono scheme.
Clifford Chance Rogers & Wells (CCR&W) pro bono partner Warren Feldman said: “I don't think one single lawyer here will refuse to give advice to the victims of this disaster.”
So far, various initiatives have been organised by the New York bar, with more expected to be rolled out in the near future. Through the bar, many firms are providing legal help at Pier 94, the family assistance centre which is located on a pier jutting into the Hudson River. Law firms such as CCR&W are manning a drop-in centre in New York's Chinatown for small local businesses destroyed in the attack. Also, the New York bar has set up a helpline, staffed by lawyers from the firms involved, to provide first-level advice, and if necessary a legal referral service, to those affected by the attacks.
CCR&W has seconded a corporate assistant to the New York bar to help deal with legal queries. He will work there full time for three months. The firm has also trained six lawyers to advise Arab-Americans who may be facing racial discrimination.
According to Feldman, CCR&W has already had 40 lawyers come forward to lead the pro bono schemes. Indeed, Davis Polk, one of the other law firms involved, has “several dozen” volunteers already, according to the firm's pro bono partner James Windels.
Feldman anticipates that the lawyers leading the scheme will instruct lawyers from inside their firms, who will then be discharged to work on the pro bono matters. Windels is not sure Davis Polk will follow the same strategy, but like Feldman he expects most of the lawyers at his firm will come forward.
Windels also chairs the New York bar's pro bono committee and imagines that his lawyers will take instructions directly from the New York bar.
In terms of donations and chargeable hours, both CCR&W and Davis Polk are making huge financial commitments to the project, and both believe that the other firms involved are doing the same.
“I haven't calculated the exact cost of the time we've spent on this so far, but I can confidently say that the legal services will run into millions of dollars,” said Feldman.