Sandy forces New York law firms to work remotely

Mon Oct 29, 2012 5:54pm EDT

(Reuters) - With Hurricane Sandy bearing down on New York, law firms on Monday scrambled to keep operations running normally, with attorneys working remotely via BlackBerry and computer, and skeletal crews manning offices in midtown Manhattan.

Law firms such as Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy and Cahill, Gordon & Reindel shuttered their offices because they are in or near the high risk financial-district areas evacuated by the city. Dozens of other firms outside the high risk areas, including Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, took similar precautions.

Firms had various plans to keep their employees informed of developments. Cadwalader, located at One World Financial Center, provided its attorneys with updates about technology safeguards and backup systems via email and an emergency telephone hotline, according to a spokesman.

Telephone calls and faxes to New York were re-routed to the firm's office in Charlotte, North Carolina. Cadwalader also used a meeting space in midtown Manhattan to accommodate about 50 lawyers and support staff who were able to make it to work.

Jonathan Schaffzin, an executive committee member and corporate partner at Cahill Gordon, said that with attorneys working remotely, the storm's effect had been minimal as of Monday morning. But the firm's ability to continue to conduct business would depend on factors beyond its control, such as whether courts or client offices were open, or whether the power went out at a particular lawyer's residence, Schaffzin said.

Federal district courts in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, and Virginia were closed on Monday, as were the Courts of Appeals for the Second, Third, and D.C. Circuits in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., respectively.

"I had a couple deals close this morning actually, so the world moves on," said Schaffzin, declining to elaborate on the specifics of the deal. "At some point, everything will grind to a stand-still," he said.

Lawyers at White & Case, located on Sixth Avenue in midtown, were also working remotely, said partner Mort Pierce. "In the past, in bad storms, if something had to get done, and people had to be in the office to get the work done, they always found a way," Pierce said in an email. "I assume it will be no different this time."

Attorneys at Perkins Coie's Manhattan office were working to obtain an early filing date for several trading system patent applications for a financial services client, according to a Perkins Coie spokesman.

Firms with a presence outside of the northeastern United States leaned on offices in those cities to pick up some of the slack. Reed Smith's Global Customer Center in Pittsburgh was "answering the telephones and handling other matters for the closed locations," Pat Hiltibidal, the firm's chief of offices services, said in an email.

Kramer Levin's backup business continuity center in Long Island, which runs parallel systems to the firm's New York office in case of a power outage, remained on alert.

Hurricane Irene in August 2011 informed some of firms' contingency planning for Hurricane Sandy. Locke Lord provided more information to attorneys this time around, said a spokeswoman. In the event that communications go down in New York, the firm's Chicago office will send out updates on office openings and preparation guidelines via their internal website and a telephone hotline, she said.

(Reporting by Peter Rudegeair, Casey Sullivan and Nate Raymond; editing by Eileen Daspin)

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