Normalcy After 9/11: Public Service as the Crisis Fades

30 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2007


There is much to celebrate regarding the legal community's response to the legal needs arising out of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Chief Justice Kaye rightly delights in the picture of “the Bar at its finest, its shining hour; thousands of lawyers, paralegals and staff, hundreds of thousands of hours enthusiastically volunteered for the public good.” As the Report's Introduction summarizes, and the body of the Report details, the response of the legal community was “fast, thoughtful, comprehensive and creative.” The raw numbers are impressive. Volunteer lawyers represented more than 4,000 individuals and families who were affected by the disaster. Approximately 3,000 lawyers received 9/11 training through the City Bar and in-house law firm programs. Over 2,800 lawyers registered on the 9/11 website to gain information and resources.

The raw numbers are only the beginning of the story of the legal community's response. “[T]he institutions that make up the New York area legal community collaborated in ways never previously imagined. Where turf battles once existed, cooperation prevailed.” Chief Justice Kaye observes in the Report's Foreword that the Report itself is an “extraordinary primer” - “a comprehensive textbook on how best to deliver pro bono services!” Each chapter is filled with information crucial to those who might attempt to glean lessons from the 9/11 experience and translate them to other endeavors. The Report sets forth the “Foundations of the Legal Community's Response” and describes the rich variety of “Specific Projects Designed to Aid Victims.” The Report then turns to “Ongoing Efforts and Unmet Needs” before describing “Survey Results of both the Volunteer Lawyers and Organizations” that responded to the crisis.

The final part of the Report offers eighteen lessons learned, in the “hope that the 9/11 response will be an instructive example for future legal relief efforts.” The lessons are divided into three categories: “Responding as a Community”, “Responding to a Disaster”, and “Improvements for the Future.” Chief Justice Kaye's only disagreement with the “Lessons Learned” is that she sees not only eighteen lessons, but “hundreds of lessons” for organizing, delivering and overseeing pro bono services.

As we celebrate the unprecedented achievement of the legal community in the aftermath of the September 11th attack, we should examine the achievements with a critical eye. The evaluation should not be limited to the year following September 11. Rather, as the crisis “fades” and the profession, along with the rest of the world, settles into “normalcy” post-9/11, the questions become more difficult: *Despite the extensive response of the legal community, to what extent did the response prove inadequate? *To what extent does the unique nature and magnitude of the September 11 disaster render the impressive response something we cannot replicate, even to a lesser degree?

*Even to the extent the response was successful, to what extent did the response constitute a diversion of existing resources from other endeavors, rather than an overall increase in pro bono and public services efforts?

*If the Report is to serve as a primer for legal communities, what lessons from the response to September 11 can be applied to other settings, and how can we apply them?

Although it seems unpatriotic to raise questions as to the ultimate success of the endeavor, I do so despite my complete admiration and respect for the efforts of those inside and outside the legal community who responded immediately, creatively and tirelessly to the horrific events of September 11 and its aftermath. I do so in the spirit of the implicit challenge of Chief Justice Kaye's Foreword to the Report, where she notes: “the fact is that for families facing homelessness, or eviction, or deportation, or foster care, or innumerable other life challenges, every day is also a time of crisis.” The success of the legal community's efforts must therefore be measured not only by analysis of the response to the 9/11 crisis itself, but also by consideration of whether the lessons learned pave the way for an improved response by the legal community to the legal crises facing countless families every day.

Keywords: Pro Bono, Public Service, Unmet Legal Needs, Access to Justice

Suggested Citation

Engler, Russell, Normalcy After 9/11: Public Service as the Crisis Fades. Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 31, p. 983, 2004, Available at SSRN:

Russell Engler (Contact Author)

New England Law | Boston ( email )

154 Stuart St.
Boston, MA 02116
United States

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