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Law Office of Robert J. Ambrogi
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Rockport, MA 01966
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October 2001

Legal Community Comes to the Aid of its Own, Online

By Robert J. Ambrogi
In Sept. 11's tragic wake, a stunned nation turned to the dual tasks of helping the victims while carrying on with their lives. The legal community - whose members were among the office workers, rescue workers and airline passengers who were victims of the attack - was no exception. In ways great and small, it quickly coalesced to offer support and information to those who would carry on.

When phone lines failed and transit systems shut down, the Web proved itself the surest way to get information to those who needed it. Within days, law-related Web sites turned themselves to becoming bulletin boards for offers of assistance and repositories of information about critical resources.

The New York State Bar Association was among the quickest to respond, posting a WTC Disaster Assistance page soon after Sept. 11. It has kept the site up-to-date ever since, offering information for both lawyers and the general public on how to obtain assistance, how to process insurance claims, how to handle pending cases, and how to obtain temporary staffing.

The NYSBA also helped launch Legal TechAid, a Web site devoted to serving as a clearinghouse of information about replacing computer systems, recovering data and reestablishing law practices interrupted by the events of Sept. 11. The page was launched less than a week after the attack, thanks in large part to the volunteer work of Dale Tincher, president of ConsultWebs.com, www.consultwebs.com, a Raleigh, N.C., Web consulting firm, and Ross Kodner, president of the Milwaukee, Wis., technology consulting firm MicroLaw.

News and Information

Here at American Lawyer Media (where I am employed), we did our part as well. The National Law Journal (of which I am editorial director) immediately began posting news of the attack's impact on the legal community on its Web site, including a grim roster of victims and missing. It also created a Disaster Relief page, on which anyone could post offers of free services, products, office space or other support for law firms affected by the tragedy.

Another ALM site, New York Lawyer, a Web publication of the New York Law Journal, also began posting news almost immediately of the impact on New York's legal community. It continues to provide daily news reporters on how courts, lawyers and legal workers are recovering and coping.

Within hours of the WTC attack, ALM's New York-based editors and reporters fanned out to cover its impact on the legal community. Monica Bay, editor of its magazine, Law Technology News, was among the first journalists to make her way towards Ground Zero. Her dramatic photographs can be seen on LTN's Web site.

Other legal news sites also devoted substantial space to continuing coverage of the attack's impact on legal professionals as well as to the legal aspects of the war on terrorism. Special coverage on FindLaw includes regularly updated news summaries, as well as links to related government Web sites, documents, laws, cases, photographs and videos, and support organizations. It, too, includes a volunteer clearinghouse, for those wanting to post offers of free law books, office supplies, legal services or other services.

LexisOne likewise quickly created a section devoted to information for the legal community, which it calls America Unites. In addition to a collection of links, it includes a library of the forms needed to obtain a death certificate in New York and two discussion forums where lawyers can share their thoughts about these events or post requests for assistance and offers of help.

Another site that responded by devoting a full section to in-depth coverage was LLRX.com. Its extensive collection of Sept. 11 links pull together legal and general news sources with resources on terrorism and homeland security, disaster recovery and relief, survivor and victim services, international law and policy, and even transportation.

Substantive Law

While these sites focused on reporting news for and about the legal community, others turned their attention to substantive law, drawing together key resources on topics important to lawyers in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

One topic of foremost importance was insurance. As victims of the WTC attack turned to the task of rebuilding, lawyers and clients confronted an array of questions. What if the policy was destroyed? How is a claim filed? Which policies cover what damages or losses? WTCinsurance.org, created as a pro bono service by a coalition of lawyers and staff who concentrate in insurance coverage law, offers answers to many common questions. If the answer is not on the site, visitors can e-mail the question directly to a volunteer.

Meanwhile, Jurist: The Legal Education Network, a wide-ranging legal portal, launched a new section devoted to Terrorism Law and Policy. This new section draws together links to Web sources for counter-terrorism laws and policies worldwide, as well as to terrorism-related trial documents, news and general information. Adding perspective to it all is commentary contributed by law professors from throughout the U.S.

Another site that responded with substantive assistance is Probono.net, which created a special section devoted to helping the legal community consolidate its relief efforts on behalf of those affected by the events of Sept. 11. It includes listings of legal services needed, other ways lawyers can offer their support, substantive materials to help lawyers who donate their services, and contact information for appropriate city, state and federal agencies that provide benefits or services.

Other Bar Sites

As mentioned earlier, the NYSBA was quick to respond with information on its Web site, but it was not the only bar association to do so. On a national level, the American Bar Association devoted a portion of its site's front page to "Our National Tragedy." In addition to a message from ABA President Robert E. Hirshon, it included a memorial to ABA members who died or were missing, information on legal help and volunteer opportunities for lawyers and victims, and links to resources both within and without the ABA. Uniquely, the ABA drew together messages to victims sent by lawyers and bar associations throughout the world.

The Association of Trial Lawyers of America devoted parts of its Web site to its various initiatives in the wake of Sept. 11. These include its calls for a moratorium on lawsuits arising out of these events, its pro bono program, providing free representation for victims and their families, and its 911 Heroes Fund, for trial lawyers to assist the families of firefighters, police and emergency medical workers who gave their lives in rescue efforts.

The Association of Legal Administrators created an area devoted to Disaster Planning and Recovery Resources. It includes a small but growing library of articles and links to outside resources. ALA's New York City chapter has a page of its own, http://www.alanyc.org/sept_11.cfm, providing information on law firms and legal vendors who are offering assistance to victims.

Two other New York bar associations with sections devoted to Sept. 11 and its aftermath are the Association of the Bar of the City of New York and the New York County Lawyers' Association. Both offer a variety of information for lawyers and the general public.

Robert J. Ambrogi, rambrogi@amlaw.com, is author of "The Essential Guide to the Best (and Worst) Legal Sites on the Web," available at LawCatalog.com.

© 2005 Robert J. Ambrogi.