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Atlanta-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 nonevent, but the reason it was a nonevent is partly because people did so much planning for it,” said Andrew J. Cataldo, a partner in the Atlanta office of Richmond, Va.’s McGuireWoods. “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 2005 urged private companies, particularly utilities, to develop plans to provide goods and services in case of a pandemic. A look at Y2K 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 United States 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. Lanny J. Davis, a partner in the Washington office of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and former counsel to President Clinton, created a joint venture with French professional-services firm Publicis Groupe S.A. to develop flu-threat plans for companies. McKenna Long & Aldridge, which has one of the largest federal lobbying practice groups among firms in Atlanta, is also looking for customers. John M. Clerici, a partner in McKenna’s Washington office, said he’s recently received calls from three companies, two of which aren’t current McKenna clients, inquiring about avian-flu advice.

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