Fears around the spreading coronavirus have yet again affected the business of law, as the world’s second-highest grossing firm Latham & Watkins called off its annual global partnership meeting in New York citing safety concerns.
Meanwhile Baker McKenzie has re-opened its London office today (2 March) after an employee taken ill with suspected symptoms last week tested negative to the COVID-19.
Latham chair Rich Trobman said in a statement on Friday (28 February) that the firm had taken the ‘difficult decision’ to cancel its annual partner meeting ‘with the health and wellbeing of our colleagues and clients foremost in mind’. He added: ‘While we perceive the risks to be small, safety is our first priority, and we thought this decision was in the best interests of all concerned given the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19.’
The conference was due to take place this week, bringing together partners from its 30 offices across the world in Manhattan. Latham has 514 equity partners and 276 income partners.
Elsewhere, Bakers’ London operations were back to business as usual today after the firm shut its 1,000-employee office on Friday citing concerns over a staff member showing suspected symptoms after travelling to northern Italy, Europe’s worst-affected area. The employee underwent tests for the virus and on Sunday the firm received news they were negative, so notified staff that they could return to work as normal today.
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.’
Fears around the impact of coronavirus on businesses have been mounting in recent weeks, with many concerned it could have financial crisis-level effect on the global economy. Last Friday news came that US stock markets had suffered their worst week since the 2008 financial crisis, with the three main indexes falling by 10% or more.
Shearman & Sterling has imposed a travel ban for China and Hong Kong, limiting non-essential travel to contaminated jurisdictions and putting in place remote working measures. Dentons has temporarily closed its office in Wuhan, where the virus originated.
Outside law, oil major Chevron last week sent its 300 staff home from Canary Wharf as a precaution, along with Crossrail, which shares the same building.