This article was originally featured in our All Rise newsletter on September 13, 2021. Follow the link to subscribe.

Before 9/11, Michael Barasch had a modest New York law practice, mostly catering to firefighters and cops injured in the line of duty. With offices just a couple blocks from the World Trade Center and a trusted following among first responders, Barasch & McGarry was particularly well-placed to seek compensation for clients affected by the devastating attack on the twin towers.

In the 20 years since, he has signed up over 25,000 clients, with about 10,000 open cases remaining. He has helped clients recover over $3 billion from the Victims Compensation Fund established by Congress. That makes him the person who has secured more damage awards for 9/11 victims and their families than anyone (the VCF caps lawyers’ fees from these settlements at 10%, which Barasch maintains is why most lawyers aren’t interested in pursuing them).

If you assume the pace of those cases has slowed to a trickle, consider this: In the week preceding a July 29th deadline to register with the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund for death claims, he took on about 800 new cases. “Human nature is so interesting,” he says. “People knew about this deadline for two years, and yet people still waited until the week before. It was insane in my office.”

About 80% of the 100,000 first responders’ families have signed up for federal compensation fund aid for death or illness caused by the attack, but Barasch notes that only 7% of the remaining 400,000 “9/11 community” of civilians did. “I had a lot of people tell me they didn’t want to register because they didn’t want to take money from cops and firefighters,” not understanding that Congress had appropriated enough money to cover everyone affected by the tragedy.

While his 9/11 practice remains robust, that won’t last forever. “Every year that goes by, it gets harder and harder to prove these cases,” he explains. “You need witnesses to sign affidavits you were there, and a lot of people don’t remember what happened 20 years ago. For cops and firefighters, it’s easy to prove they were there. But for the guy working at a bodega or a small law firm, it’s not so easy anymore.”


Michael Barasch has been listed in Best Lawyers® since 2019 in Personal Injury Litigation – Plaintiffs.

John Ettorre is an Emmy-award-winning writer, based in Cleveland. His work has appeared in more than 100 publications, including the New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor.