Still displaced, lawyers make do with boxes,
leaky storage rooms
Crain's New York Business
By Stephen Gandel
September 09, 2002
In her storage room-turned-office, Jennifer Baum works under an expanding
leak that is causing the ceiling to turn brown and crumble. Mold grows in
the buckets positioned to catch the water.
She shrugs it off. Outside her office she has taped up a clear plastic suit,
and a sign that reads, "All employees must don protective gear before coming
Such is life in limbo. Nearly a year after Sept. 11, the Legal Aid
Society-the lawyers for New York's poor and homeless-remains, well,
The nonprofit has been barred from returning to its 90 Church St.
headquarters, across from the World Trade Center site, because of
Legal Aid has uncomfortable company. More than 11,500 New Yorkers continue
to work out of temporary space, according to analysis by Manhattan-based
real estate brokerage TenantWise.com Inc. and Crain's New York
Business. That's 8% of the 137,000 workers who lost their offices or access
to them when the Twin Towers collapsed.
Legal Aid's 450 displaced attorneys and staffers have spent the past 12
months spread among previously unused spaces-some unused for good reason-in
the nonprofit's other offices. It could be another year and a half before
they return to their old desks.
They have contended with difficult working conditions as demand for Legal
Aid's services is on the rise because of Sept. 11 and the deteriorating
economy. The civil division is spread among a few boroughs. Their papers and
documents, some 20,000 boxes worth, are stuck in a storage facility in
"I am counting the days till we can have all the parts back in one place,"
says Steven Banks, Legal Aid's associate attorney in chief.
In the memories of the exiled workers, the old office has achieved mythical
proportions. They say the wood paneling and rugs had the ability to cool
emotions and lift spirits.
The Legal Aid office on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, where 65
displaced workers have cobbled together space amid the faded and scratched
walls, looks more like a bargain basement. Jammed into small rooms, the
staff is still trying to piece together a sense of place.
Ms. Baum replaced the wind-up chattering teeth she lost, and she has
established a new emergency drawer of Motrin, pantyhose and tampons. But it
took years to collect all of the squishy, bendable toys she used to relieve
Elisabeth Benjamin was able to salvage some things from 90 Church St. But
fears of what wafted into her office are causing her to throw out almost all
of them. A Rolodex she crossed barricades to retrieve in the days after
Sept. 11 is headed for the trash.
"I keep saying, `That's from 90 Church-wash your hands,' " says Ms.
Benjamin, the supervising attorney of the health law practice.
Sam Davol is a nomad. When he moved to Montague Street, the staff attorney
shared an office with a colleague. But confidential client meetings or phone
calls continually forced one of them to leave the room. Fed up, Mr. Davol
agreed to wander, inhabiting the offices of vacationing staffers.
He and his three boxes have moved in and out of three offices in the past
month and a half alone. Part caretaker, part squatter, Mr. Davol has
developed a green thumb with office plants and has become accustomed to
working in front of pictures of other people's loved ones. He has also
become a connoisseur of grade-school art.
"Some offices have lots of finger paintings," says Mr. Davol, studying a
work of diagonal and vertical red smears on brown construction paper. "I've
Copyright 2002 Crain Communications, Inc