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A widespread outbreak of the avian flu could have devastating effects, but the threat of a pandemic could mean big business for law firms. Lawyers from McGuireWoods and McKenna Long & Aldridge, among others, are pitching their services to companies that need to prepare contingency plans in case a bird-flu pandemic becomes a reality. Private companies face potential liabilities in numerous legal areas, including labor law, tort claims, employee benefits and contracts law. Some are comparing the ongoing preparation efforts to the Y2K scare. “People often walk away from Y2K thinking it was a non-event, but the reason it was a non-event is partly because people did so much planning for it,” said Andrew J. Cataldo, a McGuireWoods partner in Atlanta. “Most companies have to worry about this,” Cataldo said. “The problem with bird flu is that you can’t stop it. Containment doesn’t work.” President Bush in November urged private companies, particularly utilities, to develop plans to provide goods and services in case of a pandemic. Cataldo and others, including Doug Himberger, a vice president at consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton who has advised companies on the bird-flu pandemic threat, said they have not prepared an estimate of the size of the U.S. market or global market for advising companies on pandemic preparations. Total spending on the Y2K threat in the U.S. topped $100 billion, mostly in technology upgrades, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Transmitted primarily through birds, the avian influenza virus was first reported in humans in 1997, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Through May 12, avian flu had claimed 115 human lives worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. There is no vaccine available for the H5N1 virus subtype, which is the most deadly among birds. McGuireWoods isn’t the only law firm that sees an opportunity. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe partner Lanny J. Davis, former counsel to President Clinton, created a joint venture with French professional-services firm Publicis Groupe SA to develop flu-threat plans for companies. Atlanta’s McKenna Long & Aldridge, which has one of the largest federal lobbying practice groups among local firms, is also looking for customers. McKenna partner John M. Clerici in Washington said just in the past week he’s received calls from three companies, two of which aren’t current McKenna clients, inquiring about avian-flu advice. McKenna is pursuing business related to avian-flu preparations on two fronts, Clerici said. One is advising companies on creating mitigation plans. The other is lobbying Congress and federal agencies on behalf of companies that make flu vaccines, therapies and diagnostic tools. McKenna’s legal advice on the pandemic threat varies based on the client, Clerici said. “If you are supplier of a critical item, something that would be necessary in a pandemic� like a mask, a vaccine or a body bag�your contracts need to protect you,” he said. Of concern to a wider audience, from the largest corporations to a small company with 10 or fewer employees, is how to keep things running in case a pandemic strikes, Cataldo said. Some federal officials have estimated that as much as 40 percent of workers could call in sick or not report to work for an extended period if the bird-flu hits the United States. Some employers will respond differently than others to such a scenario. “Some business may need to go to telecommuting, but manufacturers might need to shut down completely,” Cataldo said. “If 40 percent of your workers aren’t there, and you have machines that need to be watched, you might have to close.” Georgia’s poultry companies are already being hurt by the avian flu. Gold Kist Inc., an Atlanta-based poultry processor, said in a May 10 federal regulatory filing that export demand for its poultry products has declined, as a result of avian-flu worries abroad. In April, Russia’s agriculture minister cancelled all poultry import licenses, Gold Kist said. Gold Kist employs veterinarians who monitor the avian-flu situation in the United States, according to a company statement. The company also regularly tests its birds for the flu virus. Gold Kist general counsel J. David Dyson declined to comment on the company’s specific plans for preparing for an avian-flu pandemic. Andy Peters can be reached at [email protected]

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