New Orleans courthouse damaged by Ida, firms go remote, law schools closed

A parking sign lies in the street as Hurricane Ida makes landfall in Louisiana, in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S. August 29, 2021. REUTERS/Marco Bello

  • Law firms reactivate remote work processes developed during pandemic
  • Much of the area is without power

(Reuters) – The legal community in New Orleans spent Monday regrouping after Hurricane Ida ripped through Louisiana as a Category 4 storm the previous day.

Ida delivered high winds that damaged buildings and killed at least one person but was not expected to produce as extensive flooding as Hurricane Katrina did 16 years ago. Much of New Orleans remained without power, however, and federal courthouses throughout Louisiana and parts of Mississippi were closed on Monday. The roof of the building that houses New Orleans’ municipal and traffic courts was damaged and leaking in several places, according to Edward Walters, judicial administrator for the municipal court.

Law firms and law schools were also in recovery mode Monday.

“We’re in the process of accounting for all of our people, and so far everybody is safe,” said Guilford (Gif) Thornton Jr, managing partner of Adams and Reese, which has about 80 attorneys in New Orleans. “What we’re facing in New Orleans is some very significant consequences for our electricity providers. That means we won’t have power for days and potentially two or three weeks.”

Adams and Reese’s New Orleans office will remain closed until power is restored and attorneys and staff are currently working remotely. That shift has gone smoothly in part because the firm had six weeks of remote-work experience in 2020, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Thornton said.

Jones Walker’s New Orleans office is also without power and closed, with attorneys working from home or temporarily relocated to other offices in the region, said managing partner Bill Hines. Technology improvements and lessons learned during COVID have helped the firm stay on top of work despite dealing with a natural disaster, he said.

“I hate to say that there is a silver lining in COVID, but we live in a place that’s a storm alley and having this work-from-home procedure that we all have now because of COVID enables you to manage around a storm in a way you couldn’t five years ago, and certainly couldn’t 16 years ago,” Hines said from his home, which sustained roof damage from Ida but is equipped with a generator.

The firm’s New Orleans office does not appear to have been damaged, Hines said, though the hurricane blew out several windows on lower floors of its building.

Meanwhile, Tulane University Law School and the Loyola University New Orleans School of Law are closed through at least Tuesday due to the storm.

“Tulane University is now busily assessing damage on campus and what will be required for reopening,” wrote Tulane Law dean David Meyer in an email on Monday. “It looks like New Orleans was spared the worst of the storm’s damage, though damage to the power grid is a major impediment.”

Additional reporting by Diana Novak Jones

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