Monday, September 6, 2010

Five Years After Katrina, Local Firms Soldier On

It's hard to believe that five years have passed since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

Retrospectives on the subject have been all the rage recently--such as Spike Lee's new HBO film on the storm's devastating aftermath--and now sibling publication The National Law Journal has the story on how some local law firms are getting back to business.

The NLJ checked in with several lawyers that the paper initially reached out to four years ago, after Katrina had flooded 80 percent of New Orleans and forced many local businesses either out of business or elsewhere.

Lawyers and law practices weren't immune to the aftereffects of the disaster: The NLJ notes that the numbers of lawyers with offices in New Orleans dropped nearly 20 percent as attorneys moved to neighboring states to make a living.

But just as the Crescent City has clawed its way back, the local legal market has also rebuilt. The NLJ reports that local bar membership is slightly higher than pre-Katrina levels. And while the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig was a disaster environmentally, it's been a boon to local lawyers.

Richard Dicharry, chairman of New Orleans-based Phelps Dunbar, has been shuttling back and forth to London advising the insurers for the rig's operator, Swiss-based Transocean. Phelps Dunbar has had a London insurance practice since 1985, according to The NLJ.

But despite the increase in billings caused by Deepwater Horizon-related legal work, Dicharry notes that less than 30 percent of his firm's business stems from the city in which it is based. Instead, Phelps Dunbar's offices in Tampa, Houston, and Baton Rouge account for the majority of the firm's revenues.

Dicharry told The NLJ that government foot-dragging has slowed many of New Orleans's redevelopment efforts and that recruiting high-end legal talent to the city for an extended period of time remains a problem.

By Brian Baxter


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