The World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001, shocked the world. But many are unaware that today, twenty years later, many people are still suffering from the effects of the attacks. Over half a million people were exposed to toxic dust on 9/11 and the months after. More than 68 types of cancer have been linked to the toxic air by NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health). Thousands of survivors and responders are diagnosed every year with cancer and severe respiratory illnesses.
Lee London, as a partner at Barasch & McGarry and managing attorney for their 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) practice, works tirelessly along with his legal team for those affected by the devastation of that day. To date the firm has collected over $3 billion in compensation on their clients’ behalf. Located just steps from New York’s Ground Zero and the site of the 9/11 attacks, Barasch & McGarry has become the nation’s leading law firm for 9/11 victims.
As a passionate and skillful leader for what some might call one of the most noble legal efforts of the past century, Lee oversees strategy and operations at Barasch & McGarry. He has played a leadership role at the firm since 2013. He is a fierce champion of the 9/11 community, working directly with survivors, advocating for their rights and helping them to secure compensation and health care. Lee has appeared in major publications, including USA Today and Salon Magazine, and on broadcast news. He has been named a Lawyer of Distinction (2019-2021) and a Rising Star by Super Lawyers Magazine (2019-2021). He also ranks among the Top 100 Attorneys and the Top 40 Under 40 by National Trial Lawyers Magazine. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Lee to discuss the VCF practice, his work, and his clients.
Let’s begin with a bit more background. Your firm played a vital role in establishing the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, correct?
We did. Beginning in 2001, firm partner Michael Barasch became active in building awareness about the impact of the attacks. Michael lobbied Congress and fought for legislation to establish a fund for 9/11 survivors, including the first responders as well as the civilians who were working, studying and living in lower Manhattan. The fund was originally set to expire in 2015. Michael and I joined forces with other 9/11 advocates, as well as union leaders, others from the 9/11 community and the firm, making dozens of trips to Washington D.C. The Never Forget the Heroes Act was approved by the Senate in a unanimous 99 to 1 vote. We are thrilled to have played a role in the permanent extension and full funding of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund and the World Trade Center Health Program.
Why did you choose to specialize in the representation of 9/11 victims?
My father was an attorney for the Police Benevolent Association for the NYPD so as a kid, I heard a lot about the work of policemen, and first responders. I also saw what 9/11 did to the first responders and others in the downtown Manhattan community. I was determined to help them. I wanted to bring attention to how devastating 9/11 was—not just on that day, but in terms of long-term health effects that have continued for more than 20 years later.
Tell us about the appeals work you do.
This is an area of which I’m particularly proud. Our firm is relentless when it comes to fighting for our clients to get the compensation they deserve. Since 2013, we’ve completed over 300 appeals. Appeals involves establishing the client’s presence in the 9/11 exposure zone, making sure that the government appropriately compensates them, and ensuring that they receive the highest award amount possible. For example, I represented a first responder who was diagnosed with a form of cancer that was technically not covered by the fund due to the latency period for that particular cancer. I appealed the claim denial, and was successful in getting the eligibility of that form of cancer changed under the fund. The client was compensated for his illness, and gained additional comfort in knowing that his family would be taken care of after his passing.
Can you share a memorable case or experience with a client?
I have countless stories, but one that comes to mind involves a survivor with a terminal illness who’d worked at the New York Stock Exchange. His claim was denied because he had moved out of state. We successfully appealed the case, resulting in significant compensation for the client and his family. In another case, I represented a cameraman from NBC News who filmed the events of 9/11. He developed a cancerous tumor on his shoulder and was forced to leave his profession to work in a field where his income was reduced. I was able to get him an award of more than $1 million for his loss of past earnings.
What do you enjoy most about your work? What drives you?
What drives me is the passion I have for every client impacted by 9/11 exposure. Our clients made a sacrifice that day and continue to suffer horrible consequences. I’m driven by the satisfaction I receive from knowing we are helping the 9/11 community. They truly appreciate us fighting for them and shining a light on their cause. I can’t describe how rewarding it is to see our clients’ faces light up when they’re assured that their families will be taken care of and that they have not been forgotten.
A graduate of Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, Lee holds a Juris Doctorate in Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Administration as well as a Bachelor of Science in Marketing and Entrepreneurship.
Managing Attorney for the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund
Barasch & McGarry