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Latham & Watkins partner Alan Mendelson sure could have used his firm’s new SARS committee last month. A little leery of traveling to Asia, Mendelson and firm managers swapped e-mail last month about the risks of his following through with a marketing junket. “I was a little nervous,” Mendelson said. “Everybody appreciated me going and said I didn’t have to.” Mendelson went anyway, visiting with clients and talking up the firm’s biotechnology practice to representatives from Japanese pharmaceutical companies. The trip marked Mendelson’s second trip to Asia since the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome. The corporate lawyer was in Singapore on another business development trip in March. He had just gotten back to his office in Silicon Valley when the first cases of the illness were reported. “I did fly through Hong Kong and when I got back, everybody was standing six feet away from me,” Mendelson said with a laugh. Mendelson wasn’t the only one with questions about the illness and travel. Flooded with e-mail from partners and employees, firm managers tapped David McLean, a Los Angeles-based litigation partner, to create and run a committee to handle SARS-related issues. Dubbed the SARS Advisory Group, the five-member committee started work in late April. In less than a week, McLean had logged more than 25 hours trying to get up to speed on the latest SARS information. “Our firm, just as every other large organization, is concerned about and confronted with the outbreak of SARS and what impact it may have on our people,” McLean said. According to McLean, the group is charged with deciding who can travel and whether or not some employees should avoid the office. “We’re trying to get a sense of the best practices,” McLean said. So far, he said, no one at the firm has been exposed to SARS. However, a secretary in the firm’s Hong Kong office was quarantined for 10 days after someone in her apartment building took ill. Despite the brush with SARS, Mendelson said his trips were worth it from a client development perspective. “I’m sure others were more freaked out,” Mendelson said. “There were a lot of people wearing masks, mostly at the airport.” Still, Mendelson said he’s happy to be home safe: “I was lucky.”

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