Business travel Travelers all wear masks to prevent infection from coronavirus. Photo: B.Zhou/Shutterstock.com

Echoing moves by their corporate clients, major national and international law firms are altering travel plans and reevaluating events because of coronavirus outbreaks in several countries, including canceling firm meetings in the United States.

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe has told partners it will not be holding a planned retreat in Texas due to coronavirus concerns, multiple sources said. The partnership retreat had been scheduled for this week in San Antonio. The retreat has been postponed and will be held at a later date, the firm confirmed, but declined to comment further.

Norton Rose Fulbright also made adjustments to its partners meeting in Austin this week because of the spreading illness, excluding partners from certain locations including China from traveling to the event, firm chair Andrew Robinson said.

Duane Morris canceled its Asia partners meeting, which was scheduled to take place within the next month, a source within the firm said, but it still expects to hold a planned firmwide partner meeting in Atlanta next month.

Baker Botts is still planning to hold a partner conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, next week, but partners from Asian offices will not be attending, a firm spokesperson said. The firm has also prohibited travel to mainland China for all personnel, and it is limiting travel to Hong Kong—those trips must be for essential business purposes only and must be approved by management.

And according to an internal memo obtained by Law.com, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison is suspending non-essential business travel to and from Mainland China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Italy.

The Jan. 25 memo also noted that anyone who is traveling to or from those countries, or who is in close contact with someone traveling to or from those places, is required to work from home for at least 14 days after traveling and may only return to the office if they are symptom-free.

The latest law firms’ responses to the quickly spreading virus come after other international firms have taken measures abroad to limit transmission. In Shanghai, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan and Squire Patton Boggs are paying for employees to take taxis rather than public transport if it is necessary for them to travel to the office, Law.com reported late last month.

As of early February, Dentons temporarily closed its office in Wuhan, China, where the virus originated, while firms including Reed Smith and Orrick advised all staff to avoid traveling to mainland China.

A major event for the intellectual property community has been put on hold as well. The International Trademark Association announced earlier this month that its annual meeting, which had been scheduled for April 25 to 29 in Singapore, has been postponed. It is planning to reschedule the 2020 meeting for May or June somewhere in the U.S., and to hold the annual meeting in Singapore sometime in 2022.

Michael Delikat, an employment partner at Orrick, said his firm is no longer holding its partnership retreat in San Antonio this week, and partners will instead meet through video conference. This parallels the advice that lawyers are giving firm clients—to avoid large group meetings that require travel from different locations, even domestically, said Delikat, who is based in New York.

“This is not something we came up with on our own. This is the advice we are giving to clients,” Delikat said. “The focus has shifted to preventing transmission.”

He said clients, similarly, are canceling management retreats, banning all travel and rethinking other large gatherings of employees, except for mission-critical travel. Companies are no longer just limiting travel to China, he said, mentioning the possibility of employees, during a work trip, possibly coming in contact with travelers who may have been exposed to coronavirus in a number of countries.

“The No. 1 goal is to protect employees,” he said.

Brenda Jeffreys contributed to this report.

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