Dentons has temporarily closed its Wuhan office, while law firms including Reed Smith and Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe have advised all staff to avoid traveling to mainland China — the epicenter of the global coronavirus outbreak.

Meanwhile, some law firms with outposts in the region are monitoring the situation while others have stepped up their efforts to ensure the safety of staff, and prevent personnel from contracting the illness.

The virus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has been rapidly spreading across the country and around the world in recent weeks. As of February 5, the China National Health Commission had received 28,018 reports of confirmed cases of coronavirus, with 563 confirmed deaths.

Dentons has seven lawyers in its Wuhan office, according to its website.

On Tuesday, the U.K. Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) urged all British nationals with the ability to leave China to do so. And on Sunday, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs issued a statement advising U.S. citizens currently in China to attempt to leave the country, alongside a Level 4 ‘Do Not Travel’ notice instructing citizens not to travel to China.

There is increasing pressure on law firms to respond effectively to the outbreak, with many now taking steps to ensure staff safety.

Dentons is the only international law firm with an office in the quarantined city of Wuhan through its regional operating arm, Dacheng. A person at the firm told International that the office is now closed.

“Our China region leaders are continuing to closely consult with public health and government authorities, and to follow the required action steps and best practices as directed by these officials,” Elliot Portnoy, global CEO of Dentons, said in a statement to Legal Week.

“Our focus continues to be on protecting the health and safety of all our people and their families while continuing to meet our obligations to clients during this global public health emergency.”

Meanwhile, Reed Smith has now advised all its personnel to “avoid all travel to mainland China”, a person at the firm said. They added: “With regards to helping people leave the country – we will be handling individual requests as needed.”

The firm has also formed a “response group” to better monitor the situation for its staff in the region, according to the spokesperson, who added that the firm is “closely monitoring the situation and guidance issued by authorities and health organizations.”

In a similar move, fellow U.S. firm Orrick has advised its Greater China team to work from home and has “barred travel to and from and within China” without its prior approval until further notice. It has also asked anyone who returned from China in the past 14 days to work from home, a person at the firm said.

HFW, which has temporarily closed its office in Shanghai, said in a statement that it had also restricted travel within the region, with travel to and from Hong Kong and Singapore now having to be cleared with the firm’s respective office heads.

The firm added that it was “in discussion” over the latest guidance from the FCO, and that all its China staff are working from home.

Linklaters, meanwhile, is operating a remote working policy across its Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong offices, and is asking people who have recently traveled to mainland China, either on business or leisure, to work from home for 14 days.

Many lawyers continue to work from home during the government-recommended Chinese New Year period, which has been extended until February 10.

With reporting by Simon Lock.


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© 2024 ALM Global, LLC, All Rights Reserved. Request academic re-use from All other uses, submit a request to [email protected]. For more information visit Asset & Logo Licensing.