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As cases of a mysterious flu-like disease continue to multiply in Asia and across the globe, several U.S. law firms with offices in Asia have begun taking measures to protect their employees from the illness. Shearman & Sterling shut down its Hong Kong office Monday after it was discovered that two of the firm’s attorneys were on an airplane flight in which a passenger was later identified with the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, virus. And Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom began making plans Monday to re-deploy some of the associates in its Hong Kong office to safer locations. The two Shearman attorneys, a partner and an associate returning from a trip to Beijing, are currently self-quarantined in their homes until the disease’s incubation period expires. Neither has shown any symptoms of SARS, and both are expected to return to work within a few days. “Because they had come into the office since their flight, we took the precaution of closing down the office today while they checked it,” said John Wilson, the managing partner of Shearman’s Bay Area offices. According to Wilson, the office was closed in order to be tested and disinfected and was expected to reopen today. “Everyone’s fine. It’s not like we’ve had any sort of outbreak. It’s a precaution,” Wilson said. To date, 58 people have died of SARS, while 1,622 cases have been identified worldwide. The disease is believed to have spread from mainland China to a hotel in Hong Kong. Since the outbreak, a number of schools and businesses in Hong Kong and Singapore have been temporarily closed. On Saturday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an advisory suggesting that people postpone all non-essential travel to mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Hanoi, Vietnam. Phyllis Korff, a partner at Skadden, said the firm had transferred a pregnant associate in its Hong Kong office to Korea as a precautionary measure. Similarly, the firm was weighing whether to transfer other Hong Kong associates to its Sydney office. “We’re trying to get our act together here,” said Korff. “We’re very aware of the situation.” Morrison & Foerster, which has offices in Hong Kong, Singapore and Beijing, has not instituted any policies banning travel to and from its Asian offices, but the firm is asking its attorneys to think carefully about any non-essential travel. “We’ve asked people to be mindful that there is a heightened degree of risk,” said Chairman Keith Wetmore. “At this point we think that’s as much policy as is called for.” Morrison & Foerster also provided surgical masks to its employees in Hong Kong, Wetmore said, as there are reports of shortages in the area. Over a dozen U.S. law firms have established large Asian presences during the past two decades. Many said they were paying close attention to the situation, but were trying to go about business as usual and avoid panicking. “People are concerned — we’re not taking it lightly,” said Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe spokesperson John Buchanan. But he said he was not aware of any changes to travel policies to and from the firm’s offices in Hong Kong and Singapore. O’Melveny & Myers and Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, both of which have several offices throughout Asia, had not implemented any policy changes regarding travel to those offices at press time. Gregory Nitzkowski, the managing partner of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, said he planned to go ahead with a scheduled business trip to Japan next week, but still had not made a decision on whether to visit China as part of the trip.

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