How is the Coronavirus Affecting the Legal Market?
Posted by Aaron Burton
Fears around the spreading coronavirus have affected the world of law, and the impact of the virus on businesses has been mounting in recent weeks. The coronavirus, officially called COVID-19, has now spread to over 77 countries and territories with over 92,000 cases confirmed, and more law firms are taking precautions to protect their employees and clients from contracting and spreading the virus. The outbreak of the coronavirus has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organisation. Globally, companies are being impacted by the virus outbreak, as a result of both the labour market and their supply chain. According to Sky News, global stock markets had their worst week since 2008 amidst fears of coronavirus, with losses accelerating last Friday afternoon. Many are concerned that the COVID-19 will have a financial crisis-level impact on the global economy. Investment strategist Norihiro Fujito has said “The coronavirus now looks like a pandemic. Markets can cope even if there is a big risk as long as we can see the end of the tunnel. But at the moment, no one can tell how long this will last and how severe it will get.” The world’s second-highest grossing firm Latham & Watkins has called off its annual global partnership meeting in New York, citing safety concerns and fears about the virus as the reason behind the cancellation. The annual conference was due to take place this week and bring together over 750 Equity and Income Partners from its 30 global offices. The firm’s Chair Rich Trobman stated last Friday 28th February, that the firm had made the decision to cancel the partner meeting “with the health and wellbeing of our colleagues and clients foremost in mind”. Simmons & Simmons have now become the latest firm to postpone their Partner conference as the virus spreads across Europe, which was due to take place today, 5th March, in Monaco over two days. This is the same for Linklaters, who has suspended its Partner conference which was due to be held in Berlin on 24th April. Last week Baker McKenzie closed their 1,000-employee London office as a ‘precautionary measure’ in response to a potential coronavirus case, and staff were told to work from home. However, earlier this week on the 2nd March, Baker McKenzie re-opened its London office after the employee taken ill with suspected symptoms tested negative for COVID-19. A spokesperson for the firm said, “Our priority is the health and wellbeing of our people and our clients, and we took these pre-emptive measures out of an abundance of caution”. Given the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus, it is clear that firms in the legal market are taking precautions. Dentons has temporarily closed its office in Wuhan where the virus was first contracted, Shearman & Sterling has imposed a travel ban for China and Hong Kong and put in place remote working measures, and Dorsey & Whitney has encouraged staff in its offices in Beijing, Shangai and Hong Kong to work remotely. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe has cancelled its Partner retreat in San Antonio due to coronavirus concerns, and Baker Botts and Norton Rose Fulbright are excluding those based in Asia from their Partner meetings. As well as monitoring international travel, firms - particularly international firms based in China and the surrounding areas - are taking other precautionary steps such as paying for taxis for employees to avoid travelling on public transport, introducing hand sanitizing stations, improving cleaning efforts and providing masks for those who want them. Aside from measures being taken on ground level, law firms will also need to consider relevant contractual provisions and risk management strategies which are likely to come into fruition in the wake of the coronavirus. Global teams will find themselves actively advising on these issues across various jurisdictions, and the looming business disruptions as a result of the outbreak must not be underestimated given the pivotal role of China in the global economy. For more information on this article, please contact Aaron Burton on 020 7269 6350 or firstname.lastname@example.org.