Katrina Relief Greater NY ACC President Appeals To Readers To Help Displaced Students And Describes The Reactions Of The Federal Reserve System To Katrina

Saturday, October 1, 2005 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Thomas C. Baxter, Jr., President, Greater New York Chapter, Association of Corporate Counsel, and General Counsel and Executive Vice President, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Editor: How is the Greater New York Chapter of ACC helping victims of Hurricane Katrina?

Baxter: Our objective is to be of assistance to a specialized community, the community of displaced law students who cannot continue their studies in New Orleans because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. For those law students who express an interest in working in the New York City area, we hope to provide job opportunities as law clerks or paralegals. As you may know, Tulane and Loyola Law Schools expect to remain closed for at least several months.

Students entering their second and third years in those law schools have been offered opportunities to enroll as visiting students at a multitude of law schools around the country. However, the options are much more limited for hundreds of first year law students - many of whom had just moved from the New York City area to New Orleans. They have had to defer beginning their legal educations and their lives have been significantly disrupted. Further, these students have little or no ability to make alternative plans.

The board members of the Greater New York Chapter of the ACC believe that the New York legal community can provide valuable assistance in the form of temporary internships or paralegal positions to those students from Tulane and Loyola who find themselves in this cruel situation. Today, I am asking readers of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel to consider hiring one or more of these students on a temporary basis until their schools can resume teaching. We will be doing just that at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Greater New York Chapter of ACC, and I have received similar commitments from the legal departments of JPMorganChase, Marsh & McLennan Companies, and UBS, in addition to the law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell. In fact, Torys LLP has already hired a Tulane 1L. Each day, it is gratifying to see new employers extending a helping hand to these students in need.

We will coordinate with interested readers and the administrations of Tulane and Loyola to facilitate the matching of students and prospective employers as quickly as possible. If your readers can offer one or more paid positions to law students from New Orleans whose studies have been interrupted, please email katrina.lawstudentjobs@ny.frb.org with the name and address of a hiring representative from the company or firm; the number of law students that can be taken; a contact to whom students can email their resumes or a statement of interest; and the salary that they would be offering and any other relevant information they think would be useful to us or the law students.

Once we hear from readers, we will send them back relevant information about the program, including contact information and resumes for each of the law students who have expressed an interest in a temporary legal position in the New York City area. It will be up to prospective employers to contact those students and quickly make their hiring decisions so that these men and women can start working as soon as possible. I note that as soon as a "match" is made between a prospective employer and an interested student, we will consider the student to be placed. So, in many ways, this program operates on a "first come, first served" basis. We will continue to send interested readers information about applicants until they inform us that any open positions have been filled. We will, of course, update prospective employers on any further developments or details.

I truly hope your readers can help a law student from New Orleans as outlined above. If they can make positions available to these deserving future members of our profession, or if you have any questions, please send a message to katrina.lawstudentjobs@ny.frb.org as soon as possible.

We are also trying to arrange for housing, where necessary. One of the difficulties relates to the unique circumstances of living in New York City. Most landlords insist on a year long lease. That was a problem given that many of these students will be displaced for less than a full year. I am happy to say that New York University has come up with 15 dorm rooms that will be available on a shorter tenancy basis for our displaced law students.

It is a win-win situation. Law-related positions will be provided to law students who need employment while they are awaiting return to their law schools. At the same time, both law firms and corporate law departments are very busy (including, in some cases, with work generated by the effects of Hurricane Katrina) and need help of the kind that law students can provide. The work the displaced students will do is real legal work that will enable them to build their resumes by showing actual hands-on legal experience with a law departments or law firm.

Editor: How has the workload of lawyers at the New York Fed and other parts of the Federal Reserve System been affected by Katrina?

Baxter: The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta has a New Orleans branch and that branch, which employed about 175 people, has been rendered operationally incapacitated as a result of the Hurricane. The usual activities of that branch and the additional work generated by the need to react to the consequences of the hurricane have now been distributed to other offices within the Federal Reserve System. This is also true of large private-sector banking organizations that had offices in the affected area. JP Morgan Chase, for example, has a substantial number of branches in the New Orleans area. As I mentioned, their law department here plans to participate in the law student program.

Editor: Do you see lawyers with corporations and law firms in the New York City area volunteering to counsel families about legal issues that are raised after a disaster such as insurance filings and claiming government and other benefits?

Baxter: There is always assistance that corporate legal departments can provide in these situations. That is something that was done in the days after 9/11. What made that situation easier for New York City law firms and corporations was that it was a New York event. People had legal problems which arose under and were resolved by New York law. One of the complicating factors in assisting those affected in Louisiana and Mississippi is that nearly all practitioners in the Greater New York area are admitted to practice here, and are not licensed to practice in Louisiana and Mississippi. I have noticed that when both the ABA and ACC put out their announcements for pro bono assistance they noted a special interest for lawyers admitted in those two affected states. That is a complication for my law department because, at the New York Fed, none of our attorneys is admitted in Mississippi or Louisiana. But this does not mean we cannot help. It simply means that the direct provision of legal aid might not be the "right" way. Accordingly, we looked for other ways to help, like providing a placement service for displaced law students.

Editor: How is the Fed dealing with the disruption to the banking system caused by this disaster?

Baxter: There are two major issues with respect to banking and finance - maintaining services and forbearance in debt collection, interest, penalties, etc.

Over the last five years the Federal Reserve and other banking supervisors have emphasized the importance of business continuity and back up systems. This has been crucial for banks to ensure their continued operations in light of a disaster. While it is always risky to declare success, it would appear that notwithstanding the devastation of Katrina and now Rita, banks have weathered the storm with respect to their critical operating systems and record keeping. They have the ability to maintain their business even in the face of great devastation. That was the case on 9/11 and it is the case here. The resilience of our banking system is a component of its great strength. You can see it in both of these horrible incidents.

With respect to forbearance, the banking agencies have put out a public statement. This is focused on bank customers in Louisiana and Mississippi and the situation that they find themselves in. The banks have been responsive with respect to waiving fees and being understanding with customers who cannot make timely payments because of the Hurricane.

It is a longstanding Fed policy to work with bankers and bank customers in communities and regions affected by disasters. Personally, I am strongly committed to the principle that, with respect to corporate social responsibility, you need to lead by example. When we formulated a program to provide assistance to displaced law students, for example, I felt that the New York Fed needed to support the program with its action, and to accept one of the displaced students. Another case of leading by example is the creation by the Atlanta Fed of a charitable organization designed to help Federal Reserve employees who worked at the New Orleans branch. Many of them lost their homes. Employees throughout the Federal Reserve System, including those at the New York Fed, have given generously to that charity, and I commend the Atlanta Fed for creating the vehicle for support.