Law firms have been reacting to the coronavirus outbreak by cancelling conferences, shuttering offices and implementing travel bans.
This month Linklaters is cancelling large meetings and conferences of 30 people or more. A Linklaters spokeswoman told RollOnFriday that the firm would look to virtual solutions such as arranging webinars to replace its client training seminars. The firm's annual partnership conference , which was due to be held in Berlin at the end of April, will "take place virtually, with the face-to-face meeting postponed until November". She also said the firm was undergoing support and IT systems tests should working-from-home "be required on a more long-term basis."
On travel, the Linklaters spokeswoman said that staff should not go on any non-essential international business trips until further notice. She added that the firm is advising staff "that they should not travel to certain areas at all due to high levels of localised outbreaks".
A spokeswoman for Shearman & Sterling told RollOnFriday that the firm has "a travel ban for China and Hong Kong" and only "essential travel" was permitted for Italy, Japan and South Korea. She said that the firm has "implemented remote working measures in Asia and Italy," adding that "the safety and wellbeing of our people, their families and our clients is a priority for us."
A Baker Botts spokesman confirmed to RollOnFriday that the firm was cancelling its partner conference in Scottsdale, Arizona "out of an abundance of caution and in the interest of providing the safest possible environment for our people". The spokesman said the meeting would be held remotely instead.
The US firm has also told staff not to travel to mainland China, and that travel to Hong Kong is only permitted for essential business purposes and must be approved by management.
A Dentons spokesman told RollOnFriday that the firm's Global CEO will chair "a global pandemic preparedness taskforce" to ensure the firm "can be nimble and consider the most up-to-date information from public health agencies and government authorities" and "share best practices with our people around the world". Dentons has temporarily closed its office in Wuhan, where the virus originated.
Sidley Austin has cancelled its partner meeting that was set to be held in April in Florida. Mike Schmidtberger, chair of the firm's Executive Committee said that the firm has "been actively monitoring travel guidance from various authorities" and "while we cannot predict the future progress of COVID-19, out of an abundance of caution for the wellbeing of our personnel, we are cancelling our 2020 Annual Partners' Meeting."
Fellow US firm Latham & Watkins has cancelled its annual partnership conference. "While we perceive the risks to be small, safety is our first priority," said the US firm's Chair Rich Trobman, "we thought this decision was in the best interests of all concerned given the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19". The conference had been scheduled to take place in New York this week.
Dave refused to take any risks in the office
Concerns over COVID-19 have also caused Norton Rose Fulbright to cancel its Partners' Business Summit scheduled to take place in Austin last week. Orrick's partnership retreat scheduled to be held in San Antonio this week has been postponed. And Simmons & Simmons called off its annual partner conference in Monaco.
Some firms have had to close their doors and send staff home. Baker McKenzie shuttered its office in London last week as a pre-emptive measure due to a suspected coronavirus infection from an employee who had visited northern Italy. Although the holidaymaker got the all-clear this week and the London office re-opened.
Australian firm Clayton Utz evacuated its Sydney office of around 600 staff last week. The Daily Mail reported that a chef at the firm is married to the granddaughter of a 95-year-old-woman who had died after contracting COVID-19. Robert Cutler, the firm's Chief Executive Partner sent an email to staff stating that "an employee...may have been exposed to COVID-19 through a family member." Cutler said in his email that "due to the uncertainty and out of an abundance of caution we've made the decision to cancel the remainder of today and all sessions tomorrow. Your safety and well-being is of the utmost importance to us."
Elsewhere, a RollOnFriday reader at Squire Patton Boggs highlighted their firm's approach (from the comments section of a story):
And lawyers in one team in the City told RollOnFriday they were furious to discover that other departments had been getting hand-sanitiser on every desk, but not them. There were also complaints that no-one in management had told cleaners to properly disinfect the filthy photocopiers and door handles of their office.
If you fear your firm is turning into a petri-dish, or if management has taken an interesting approach in reacting to the virus, let us know.
UPDATE: At Slaughter and May the Disputes Group cancelled the DR Academy which was a seminar for the whole group due to take place later this month. The firm is also strongly discouraging meetings with more than 25 people (and if any such meetings go ahead, staff need to ask attendees what their travel history is), and has banned all international business travel until at least the end of the month unless it is deemed "business critical".