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Along Gulf Coast, a rising tide of suits and briefcases

Gulf Oil Spill

GOLDEN MEADOW, La. — An aerie of legal eagles has been migrating southward in 2 1/2 weeks since an offshore explosion left oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, descending on coastal communities like this one in search of clients in a position to seek damages from BP for the mess.

They got here well ahead of any oil, which remains out in the Gulf but could make landfall in this area in the next few days, depending on winds and tides.

Even without the ads placed by the law firms announcing meetings at local diners and oyster shacks, the lawyers' presence would be hard to miss in this town about 3 hours drive southwest of New Orleans, which is populated mainly by oil workers and fishermen.

Kirk Cheramie, first saw them at his favorite breakfast spot, the Huddle House, where BMWs and Mercedes Benzes were suddenly parked among the usual pick-up trucks.

"You can tell they are lawyers because they are carrying briefcases, wearing suits and there are papers spread out all over the tables," said Cheramie, who grew up in the area and is now setting up a public radio station in Golden Meadow. "And you can hear their conversations," as they meet with locals, he said.

There's a good-sized population of local liability lawyers already, in part because of the work related injuries in the rough-and-tumble oil business. Some of those folks are calling around too, seeking roles as local advisers to the major firms coming in to snap up cases. If the oil badly damages the coast, it could result in billions of dollars in claims against BP.

Some of the new arrivals aren't particularly up front about their interests, said Cheramie. He said he attended two local meetings that were billed in radio announcements as information sessions on the oil spill, both of which were organized by lawyers trying to sign up litigants.

The wave of lawyers is vexing to some people down here, who would prefer to be fielding offers of assistance from BP, its subcontractor, Transocean Ltd., and the government.

 "Who showed up? The sharks," Murry Gaspard, a fisherman from nearby Galliano, said Thursday at a meeting to discuss the spill at the Houma Tribal Center. "The sharks showed up looking for something to eat."