N95 mask Photo: Shutterstock

As the coronavirus crisis escalates, the two biggest medical needs in the U.S. at present are ventilators and N95 masks. Over the last week, attorneys at Hogan Lovells working pro bono have played a role in increasing the availability of both.

A team of 20 partners, working around the clock, helped guide longstanding client Ford Motor Co., in a collaboration with GE Healthcare, to produce 50,000 ventilators in 100 days. Another team, split between the U.S. and China, helped negotiate a complex set of approvals to allow Robert Kraft, the owner of the U.S. football team the New England Patriots, to deploy the team’s Boeing 767 airplane to pick up 1.7 million masks from the city of Shenzen in China and bring them to Boston.

“I’ve got CNN on in the background all the time,” said Hogan Lovells pro bono partner T. Clark Weymouth. “Not a half-hour goes by when there isn’t a discussion of the critical need for masks and ventilators.”

A week ago, energy partner Amy Roma was on a “social distancing” walk in the woods with her husband, a Patriots employee, when he received a call from colleagues asking for help securing a letter from the State Department to support the nascent effort to secure the masks.

When Roma found out that the number of masks was in the millions, she told her husband that she wanted to talk directly to the NFL team’s COO. The required paperwork was bound to extend beyond one State Department letter, and she quickly connected to Hogan Lovells Beijing managing partner Roy Zou.

“Even though I’m an energy lawyer, I knew who I needed to reach out to,” she said.

A U.S. team and a China-based team wound up working around the clock, trading shifts, to secure approvals from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the country’s civil aviation administration and local airport officials, while securing government-to-government assurances that the masks would be used for humanitarian purposes and letters from Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. They also leaned on Ambassador Huang Ping, the consular general for the PRC in New York, to open the consulate Saturday to get visa applications to individuals aboard the flight that was leaving the U.S. on Tuesday.

The team jet landed at Boston’s Logan Airport at 5 p.m. Thursday, as 500 members of the Massachusetts National Guard waited to deliver the masks to local hospitals. Kraft also purchased 300,000 of the masks to donate to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state of New York, and a truck and police escort was also on hand to move those masks down the coast.

“I would wake up and wonder, how do I sort through every emergency that happened while I was sleeping,” Roma said. “It was like climbing Mt. Everest, but when you get to the top and say ‘We’re clear now,’ you see a double Mt. Everest in front of you.”

Corporate partner Bill Curtin had an even bigger team working around the clock on behalf of Ford, as it worked to negotiate a deal with GE Healthcare to build a design licensed from Melbourne, Florida, company Airon Corp.

He got a call from Ford on March 27, and immediately mobilized 20 attorneys to hash out the deal.

“Each and every one of them is a partner, because the work was so complex, the speed was so fast and the margin for error was so little,” Curtin said.

He said that Ford’s conviction that it could take a product designed in a single small office in Florida, rely on the knowledge of GE Health to scale the design, and commit to the White House to produce 50,000 units in three months before a single one rolled off the line stems from its view of itself as a “tech company working in the automobile space.”

Unlike transactions under standard conditions, when person-to-person contact is key, restrictions on movement throughout the country meant that the players all had to work remotely. Instead, they relied on videoconferencing and live drafting sessions, where all the lawyers could see a document on the screen as it was revised in real time. But the high stakes surrounding the outcome made it easy for the team members to accept novel ways of moving forward.

“The fastest way to become unpopular in this process was for me or anyone else to say, ‘This seems really challenging,’” Curtin said.