When Justin Freedhand returned to his Belle Harbor office after Hurricane Sandy he found a pile of smoldering ruins.
"The embers of each building just blew into the building next to it. They were like fireballs going from one building to the another," said Freedhand, describing the scene in the Rockaway, Queens, neighborhood. "When I first saw the office, it was just smoldering rubble. The fire hadn't even burnt out."
But Freedhand, 42, said he is determined to rebuild the Freedhand Firm, where he and his wife, Lorraine, and his father, Martin, focus on litigation and real estate. Freedhand, who has been working at temporary office space in Brooklyn, said he has been counseling Rockaway residents on a pro bono basis on insurance issues while sorting out his own financial challenges.
Above, recipients of the ALM Law Firm Relief project, from left: Brian Peknic and Charles Peknic of Peknic, Peknic & Schaefer; Justin Freedhand of the Freedhand Firm; and solo John Howley. Below, Justin Freedhand stands on the ruins of his Belle Harbor office, which was destroyed by fire during Hurricane Sandy. NYLJ Photos/Rick Kopstein
One source of support is the ALM Law Firm Relief Project, which will help Freedhand and two other small law firms to regroup after Sandy through a gift of $2,500 in cash; a year online subscription to books published by Law Journal Press; and a one-year subscription to a bundle of legal research and information products, including the New York Law Journal, Smart Litigator NY, CLE from CLECenter.com and VerdictSearch.
ALM launched its program on Nov. 7, inviting law firms in three states that had been hit hard by the storm to apply for assistance. A team of ALM executives selected recipients based on the level of devastation to their firms and the positive impact their communities would experience if the firms could reorganize quickly, said Lenny Izzo, ALM's chief marketing officer.
"There are so many legal services that these small law firms provide that help local businesses," Izzo said.
The other firms on ALM's recipient list are Rockaway Park solo practitioner John Howley, and Peknic, Peknic & Schaefer in Long Beach.
ALM will also offer replacement of Law Journal Press and other books damaged as a result of the storm, and the company made a donation to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, Izzo said.
For Freedhand, the cash support will contribute to day-to-day operating expenses and supplies, such as mail service and ink and toner, he said. Freedhand said his firm lost multiple computers, printers, copy machines and 10 years of stored files.
"Simple things are gone," he said, "and we have to rebuild and start from scratch."
Freedhand owns the building that housed his office and rented out the upstairs apartments. Though he said he has insurance for the property loss, he does not have coverage for loss of income and the apartment residences.
"I'm digging into my savings," he said, adding that the family is filing a financial aid application for his daughter's school.
But Freedhand, a third-generation resident of Belle Harbor, said he will rebuild and hopes to break ground this spring.
Though days are spent getting the firm up and running, he said he is offering his Belle Harbor neighbors pro bono representation with insurance claims.
"Everybody was expecting to get paid by their insurers, so now what happens is that people are realizing that their insurance companies are not their friends," he said. "Now I'm getting the calls" for consultation on insurance policies.