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Florida Lawyers Fared Hurricane Safely

Sept. 12, 2017, 9:27 PM

After Hurricane Andrew pummeled Florida in 1992, Greenberg Traurig shareholder Cesar Alvarez told himself he’d never again let himself be caught in the path of a Category 5 hurricane.

“I remember that being the first time ever in my life that I was really afraid for my life and my family’s life,” Alvarez, now senior chairman of the firm, told Big Law Business.

Of course, that wasn’t the last he’d see of the destructive power of hurricanes.

Thirteen years later, the firm’s Miami office on Brickell Avenue, South Florida’s equivalent of Wall Street, was destroyed after the winds of Hurricane Wilma shattered nearly half of its all-glass windows.

“It took us three weeks to be able to get back into the building,” said Alvarez, who was then CEO of Greenberg Traurig.

So when weather forecasters and government officials warned South Florida residents last week about the potentially devastating effects of Hurricane Irma, Alvarez heeded the call.

“I was at the office last Wednesday and I had to calm a couple people down,” he said. “I could see they were anxious and crying; they were so concerned about what was going to happen to them. I’m someone who never worries about things, and I was worried.”

Luckily, he said, the firm was spared the worst. Though some employees remain without power, none were injured, and the firm’s offices in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, Palm Beach, Tampa, Orlando, and Tallahassee were all open by Tuesday, according to Alvarez.

Irma hit the Florida Keys as a Category 4 hurricane on Sunday morning, but quickly weakened once it hit the mainland. Miami was spared a direct hit as the storm churned up Florida’s western coast. By late Sunday, Irma was reduced to a Category 1.

“I think the story is purely that we were blessed,” he said. “All the anxiety was well-placed. If this had been a Category 5, we would have been very very damaged.”

Greenberg Traurig also operates out of Houston, where Alvarez said the damage caused by last month’s Hurricane Harvey was much worse. He estimated that approximately 100 Houston-area firm employees were impacted in some way.

Holland & Knight, another Florida-based firm, also reported that its operations had not been severely impacted by Irma. The firm has eight law offices and an operations center in Florida, totaling more than 350 lawyers and approximately 550 staff, according to managing partner Steven Sonberg. He said he is unaware of any firm personnel injured during the storm, though many remain without power in their homes.

“In general, we feel very fortunate,” Sonberg wrote via e-mail. “Although devastating in certain areas of the state, the damage was less than expected.”

Harvey W. Gurland, Jr., managing partner of Duane Morris’ Florida offices, also lived through Hurricane Andrew, an experience he described as “just horrible.” He said South Floridians have, fortunately, taken many lessons from that storm in terms of both personal and office preparation.

“The message that I started giving to everyone in both of our offices, in Miami and Boca Raton, last week on Tuesday, was if you’re receiving information from government officials that you need to evacuate, then that’s what you need to do,” he told Big Law Business.

Like Alvarez, Gurland said a worst case scenario was avoided.

“We have a lot of lawyers, myself included, we have no power, we have no water, but our houses are standing,” he said. “For those of us who experienced Hurricane Andrew, it’s a relief.”

He also said the firm’s employees in Houston had suffered more damage from Harvey, in part because that hurricane inundated the region with days of torrential rain.

“I’ve gotten emails from colleagues in Houston asking how we are,” said Gurland. “It’s so nice that after what they’ve been through they’re sending me emails to make sure we’re OK.”

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