Baker McKenzie Shuts US Offices In COVID-19 Precaution

By Dave Simpson
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Law360 (March 13, 2020, 10:01 PM EDT) -- All of Baker McKenzie's offices in the United States and Toronto will be closed through at least March in an effort to protect employees and clients and limit the spread of COVID-19, the firm announced Friday.

The firm stressed that the closure is not a response to any virus exposure or infection, noting that its attorneys will be working remotely through March 31 and are bracing for an even longer closure.

"Because we have a long-standing flexible working program including advanced technology for remote working, the firm's operations will continue uninterrupted, while bringing the highest level of service to our clients during this difficult time," the firm said in a statement.

Baker McKenzie shut down its office in London for a day on Feb. 28 over concerns related to the spread of the coronavirus. The BigLaw firm resumed normal operations in London on the next business day after an employee's test for the COVID-19 virus came up negative.

The offices that will be closed through March 31 include Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Toronto, the firm said.

The novel coronavirus began in Wuhan, China, in December and has since spread to 123 countries, according to the World Health Organization, which declared the virus a pandemic on Wednesday. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has confirmed 1,600 cases in the United States as of Friday, though questions remain about the rate of testing for the virus.

The outbreak has caused economic upheaval and prompted many law firms around the world to take measures to protect employees from the spread. Many have imposed travel restrictions, while others have canceled events.

Some have also closed offices temporarily. A Davis Wright Tremaine LLP executive legal assistant who worked in Washington state and left work Tuesday after reporting flu-like symptoms died, prompting the firm to close two of its offices in the state and a third location in Portland.

Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP temporarily closed all of its offices after learning that someone who had been in one of its D.C. locations later tested positive for COVID-19. On Wednesday, Faegre Drinker resumed normal business operations in all of its outposts except its two offices in D.C.

All but a handful of Reed Smith LLP employees at the firm's American, European and Middle Eastern offices began working remotely Friday in an effort to protect employees and clients and limit the spread of COVID-19.

Reed Smith, which has 18 offices in the U.S. and eight across Europe and the Middle East, said all offices will have a small team of "essential employees" on hand to help out with "key business needs" that require someone on-site, but all others will work remotely on an indefinite basis.

Elsewhere in the legal industry, COVID-19 has led Columbia Law School, Fordham University School of Law and other schools to suspend classes. Legal gatherings including the Legal Marketing Association Annual Conference have also been postponed or canceled.

--Additional reporting by Emma Cueto. Editing by Alanna Weissman.

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