BigLaw Tightens Global Travel As Coronavirus Fears Spread

By Jack Queen
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Law360 (February 27, 2020, 7:57 PM EST) -- International law firms are canceling meetings, imposing travel restrictions and urging employees to work from home as the coronavirus continues its deadly spread across the globe, prompting fears of a worldwide pandemic and scuttling the plans of globetrotting attorneys.

A woman wearing a protective mask stands in the uncrowded Porta Nuova business district in Milan on Thursday. Law firms in the Italian city have asked employees to work from home and avoid public transit as the number of coronavirus cases there increased to more than 650. (AP)

Coronavirus has now spread to at least 48 countries and infected more than 82,600 people, most of them in China, where the virus first emerged in December. A spike of cases in Europe, Japan and Iran in recent days has contributed to fears of a worldwide outbreak, plunging the S&P 500 into a tailspin and sending other major stock exchanges into correction territory.

Law firms in Milan asked employees to work from home and avoid public transit as the number of cases there leaped Thursday to more than 650, with 17 deaths. Others have barred nonessential travel to affected global hubs in Europe and Asia, a sign that international firms are battening down the hatches.

Squire Patton Boggs LLP, Baker McKenzie, Hogan Lovells, White & Case LLP and Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP said they were asking employees in Milan to work remotely and avoid public transit if they do come to the office. Hogan Lovells also told lawyers to avoid travel to and from the Northern Italian city, as well as Iran and Japan, "for the time being."

"Only essential travel in exceptional circumstances is permitted to and from our offices in China," a Hogan Lovells spokesperson told Law360 on Thursday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned against all nonessential travel to China and South Korea, but some international firms have gone further.

Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison LLP on Tuesday suspended all nonessential travel to mainland China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Italy, according to an internal email seen by Law360. Employees traveling to and from those countries are also required to work from home for two weeks upon returning and can only return to the firm's offices if they are symptom-free for the duration, according to the email.

Reed Smith LLP told its attorneys they should cancel all travel to mainland China, South Korea, Iran, Northern Italy or Japan, and not plan any trips there until further notice, a firm spokesperson told Law360.

"We are requesting that personnel who have returned from any of those locations to self-quarantine for 14 days before returning to Reed Smith offices," the spokesperson said.

Baker Botts LLP has barred all travel to mainland China. Travel to Hong Kong is only allowed for essential business purposes and must be approved by management, a firm spokesperson told Law360.

Baker Botts also barred its partners in Asia from attending the firm's partner conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, next week due to "transmission concerns related to air travel," the spokesperson said, noting the firm will continue to monitor the situation.

Norton Rose Fulbright, meanwhile, canceled its Partners Business Summit scheduled to take place in Austin, Texas, this week, citing coronavirus concerns.

"We concluded that asking our partners to travel to the U.S. and thereby risk the possibility of being quarantined abroad or being prevented from returning home to their families was too great," a firm spokesperson told Law360. "Our partners, while disappointed, have recognized the necessity of us reaching this decision."

Orrick also pulled the plug on an upcoming meeting of hundreds of global partners in San Antonio. The firm told Law360 it plans to reschedule its Global Managing Associate Academy, which was slated for March.

Orrick's Greater China team is working from home, while teams in Tokyo and Milan are using a combination of remote working and adjusted schedules to avoid rush hour commutes, the firm said.

"We also shared best practices with our team and upped our supply of sanitizing supplies in our offices," Orrick spokesperson Adi Weisman told Law360 in an email. "And, we're suggesting a friendly wave in lieu of handshakes and hugs. We hope this is behind us soon."

--Editing by Breda Lund and Kelly Duncan.

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