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Law firm forms group to handle post-Sandy challenges

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In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, attorneys across the state have been guiding their clients through Federal Emergency Management Agency applications, insurance claims and other forms of superstorm-related relief. But to address every possible challenge impeding a business from fully recovering, Duane Morris LLP has formed an interdisciplinary practice group centered on post-Sandy economic and community development.

James W. Carbin, an insurance specialty partner at the firm’s Newark office and a member of the practice group, said bringing a wide range of expertise to a client’s roundtable will better avoid long-term roadblocks to short-term solutions, such as factoring possible changes in municipal building codes into insurance policies and financing arrangements for property developers.

“A lot of firms are putting up the resources for different issues … but clients don’t have one problem, they have a set of issues they need to deal with, so we have all the different drivers of those issues covered,” Carbin said. “The emphasis is that we’re a one-stop shop that’s giving our clients the perspectives that usually wouldn’t be brought in to bear on their issue. That’s important because a lot of times they do tie together, like environmental issues directing reconstruction efforts and insurance matters.”

In combination with insurance advice, the 14 members of the Super Storm Sandy Economic and Community Development Group will provide planning services related to infrastructure improvements, future disaster protection and federal and state subsidies. Though the members’ practice locations span from San Francisco, to Atlanta, to Newark, Carbin said “we can videoconference anytime, though if the client wants to have a sit-down meeting, we can be wherever they want us to be.”

Within New Jersey, three attorneys based between the firm’s Cherry Hill and Newark offices will help clients maneuver through federal tax-credit programs, affordable housing, insurance issues and land planning and zoning obstacles, while consultants at Duane Morris’s government affairs and lobbying unit in Trenton and Newark will supplement those efforts by assisting clients in securing business incentive packages, grants and favorable financing terms from the state and federal governments for post-Sandy relief.

Carbin said the practice group’s clients throughout the Mid-Atlantic region all have “similar issues but at different magnitudes,” though he noted a number of New Jersey clients “run port terminals or had product loaded on terminals that got flooded when Sandy came, so their issues involve meeting customers’ needs and filling orders, and dealing with that significant lost income through their insurance policy.”

While the most common theme for recovery efforts is rebuilding damaged properties, Carbin said the practice group is taking a hard look at potential changes in municipal building codes that would require moving electric and heating systems above ground level and substantially improving safety structure in buildings that had been grandfathered into older codes pre-Sandy.

“More generous insurance policies cover those types of improvements, but they’re more expensive, so how do you keep up with changes in code without suffering a big whack in your premium?” Carbin said. “It wouldn’t happen overnight, but I don’t think it’s that far down the road either, so it’s something we’re making our clients aware of.”


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