As the coronavirus continues its global spread, another lawyer—and the first known Big Law partner to contract the illness in the U.S.—has tested positive for COVID-19, according to an announcement Sunday from Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. The firm plans to close its New York office this week as a precaution, and lawyers and staff will work remotely.
“Over the weekend, we got results showing that a partner in our New York office tested positive for the coronavirus,” a representative for the firm said in a statement. “His symptoms are minor, and he is resting at home, where he has been since March 2 because of reported infections in his religious community in Westchester County.”
The firm declined to name the partner. Quinn Emanuel, one of the country’s 25 largest law firms by revenue, has more than 200 lawyers in its New York office.
The new case—at least the second to hit New York’s legal community—comes as law firms and industry groups across the country and the world are curtailing travel, canceling partner retreats and scrambling to advise clients on the intensifying economic impacts of the virus.
In a Sunday interview, founding partner John Quinn said there’s no way of knowing for sure how the lawyer contracted the virus but said he belongs to a religious community where infections have been reported. Health authorities have ordered a Westchester synagogue to halt all services because of potential exposure to the virus, but Quinn declined to say whether the partner was connected to the synagogue.
“His symptoms are reportedly very minor, and he actually feels better than he did. We’re hoping and expecting that he’s going to be perfectly fine and that nobody else is going to get infected and that nobody’s else family is going to be affected,” Quinn said.
“We do know that, as soon as he had any issue, he has stayed home, he’s been home since this past week,” Quinn added, though he cautioned, “you can’t rule out the possibility he had the virus before he started to stay home.”
Keeping in mind advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and New York health authorities, the firm has closed its New York office through Friday, Quinn said.
The partner told the firm the names of everyone he has interacted with in recent days and the firm has contacted them, and it is asking everyone in the firm if they had contact with him, Quinn said. “So far we don’t have any indication that anybody else has any symptoms,” he said.
“We’re going to be canceling some things,” he said, and “there will have to be some things have to be postponed.”
But Quinn said he didn’t have any reason to be concerned about this episode having a longer term effect on the firm’s business. “We’re just going to bend over backwards to protect everybody in our firm and anybody who interacted with our firm. We’re trying to act responsibly and take every precaution we can,” Quinn said.
The Westchester outbreak appears to have begun with a 50-year-old lawyer from New Rochelle who works in a small Midtown Manhattan law firm, Lewis and Garbuz, and who tested positive for the coronavirus on March 3. Since then the number of known cases in New York has increased to at least 89, with the majority connected with the New Rochelle lawyer’s case, according to health authorities.
On Saturday New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency in the state.
In the firm’s statement on Sunday, Quinn Emanuel said New York employees will work from home through the end of the week.
“Our No. 1 concern is for the health and well-being of all staff,” the firm said. “With that in mind, we are taking several steps, including implementing a work-from-home period for the New York office that will run from March 9 through March 13. We will continue to monitor the situation and keep the staff updated.”
In addition to canceling and postponing firm events, some law firms have revised their guidelines for clients and guests visiting their offices. For example, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman said people should refrain from visiting a Pillsbury office or event if they have recently traveled to a major hot spot for the coronavirus, or if they were in close contact with someone else who had.