Some Houston Big Law Firms Spared Worst of Harvey’s Damage

Big Law firms with Houston offices are still in recovery mode following Hurricane Harvey, which dropped more than 50 inches of rain over the metropolitan region last weekend. Fortunately, many firms with downtown offices were spared the worst of the record-breaking storm’s damage.

Kenneth Broughton, managing partner of Reed Smith’s Houston office, said it could have been “so much worse.”

“I would say a fairly high percentage of attorneys live either downtown or within 15 or 20 minutes from downtown, and most of those areas were not flooded,” he said. The firm plans to re-open its Houston location on Tuesday following Labor Day, but Broughton said he has been in the office for most of the week.

“Downtown Houston is sunny and dry right now,” Broughton told Big Law Business Thursday afternoon, noting that the streets and the rooftops he could see from his window were “totally dry.”  

About five Reed Smith staff members and two lawyers of the office’s approximately 30 staff and 66 lawyers had been displaced from their homes, Broughton estimated. Most are staying with family members nearby, he said.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, many Reed Smith attorneys began volunteering their time to help in shelters or provide assistance with insurance claims. Several of the firm’s clients in the energy sector have been using the Reed Smith office to work out of while their own facilities remain flooded, Broughton said.  

At Baker Botts’ Houston headquarters, the situation is similar, according to partner Rob Fowler, who said the office did not suffer any flood damage. “We are just high enough,” he told Big Law Business. “A lot of our lawyers live relatively close in, which helps.”

“I was pleasantly surprised at how many of our people came through unscathed,” Fowler said. He added that the firm has an employee relief fund set up to collect tax-deductible donations for those employees who have been affected by the flooding.

Baker Botts’s Houston office was officially open on Thursday, and Fowler said he was surprised by the number of attorneys and staff members who made it in. Many displaced attorneys will likely continue to work remotely, however. As many as 191 people work in Baker Botts’s Houston office, according to the firm’s website.

Meanwhile, Houston-based Andrews Kurth closed its offices in Houston and The Woodlands (a suburb north of the city) from Monday through Wednesday, but said it was able to meet all of its clients’ needs via the firm’s nine other office locations.

“Our Austin and Dallas offices welcomed many of our Houston area lawyers to their offices so that they could continue to conduct client business,” firm spokeswoman Ashley Nelly told Big Law Business via e-mail.

She said the firm’s emergency response team, which began coordinating daily on August 21st, five days before Harvey reached landfall, has “accounted for almost everyone.”  

“Although we believe our people are safe, we are aware that some have been displaced due to flooding and/or have experienced damage to their homes,” said Nelly. On Thursday, the firm launched a firmwide fundraising effort to help attorneys and staff members impacted by the flooding, she said.

Write to the reporter at srussellkraft@gmail.com.

Write to the editor at csullivan@bloomberglaw.com.

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