Natural Disasters

NYC BigLaw Firms Open, But Lack Lights, Heat, Phones; Downed Trees, Long Lines for Gas Slow Commute

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Updated: Not only getting to the office but accomplishing ordinary work there presented unusual obstacles Wednesday for many attorneys in the New York metropolitan area, in the wake of severe storm damage done by Hurricane Sandy.

Although BigLaw firms that had closed earlier in the week are now open, it clearly wasn’t business as usual. At Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison’s offices in midtown, the issue was heat. The firm’s managing partner, Brad Karp, told Reuters the local electric utility had cut off the building’s steam heat to conserve energy.

Crain’s New York Business reported that Consolidated Edison Inc. cut off power to almost all of Manhattan below 39th Street, in an effort to reduce electrical equipment damage during the storm. While a spokesman for the utility said electric should be restored in about four days, it could be weeks before elevators and heating and ventilation systems damaged by widespread flooding are up and running again.

Among numerous businesses said to be scrambling for short-term office space as a result is Fried Frank, reports Crain’s, relying on unidentified sources. The firm, which is presently borrowing about 10 offices from Kaye Scholer and using its rented Midtown conference facility, is looking for about 100,000 square feet of temporary space, expecting a lengthy delay before its 400,000-square-foot headquarters, in a Lower Manhattan building which experienced basement flooding, will be habitable again.

At other firms, including Wachtell, Rosen, Lipton & Katz, the situation was less difficult, but telephone service was spotty.

Meanwhile, downed trees and long lines at the few open gas stations slowed the commute for those who drove; limited train service was expected to be restored beginning Wednesday afternoon, according to the New York Times.

In an effort to deal with automobile gridlock, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg banned vehicles containing fewer than three passengers from entering Manhattan between 6 a.m. and midnight, unless they used the George Washington Bridge, the Times notes.

Partner Ed Gramigna, who heads the Florham Park, N.J., office of Drinker Biddle & Reath, made it to work there Wednesday after renting a minivan for the 15-minute commute, Reuters recounts. His 2009 BMW had been crushed by downed trees, which also blocked the driveway of his home in nearby Summit, N.J.

“It’s been an ordeal,” Gramigna said.

In New York, Lauren Schwartz, who is employed as an administrative assistant at an unidentified Midtown law firm, walked more than 70 of the blocks between her Harlem apartment and her job, reports the Metropolis page of the Wall Street Journal. Bus after bus passed her by, already loaded to the gills, and, when she finally was able to get on one, she quickly got off again due to the snail-like pace at which it was proceeding.

“It was just inching along so slowly that we were barely moving,” she told the newspaper, adding: “Once I got off, I was moving faster than the bus. Seriously.”

Related coverage: “Some Law Firms and Courts in Storm-Ravaged Areas Remain Closed”

Updated on Nov. 1 to add information from Wall Street Journal.

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