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Lawyers and support staff at law firm Gardere Arena & Asociados sported a new look in their Mexico City office on Monday – surgical masks.

The masks were one of several precautions the office’s 30 workers have taken since Mexican Government officials announced on Thursday (23 April) that a deadly strain of swine flu had hit the country. By midday on the following Monday (27 April), more than 1,600 people across Mexico were reported to have been infected with the virus and 149 were dead. Health officials in the US and Canada have also detected cases of the disease.

“This is something that has been very quick, and we are still in the process of figuring out what we should be doing,” said Marco Najera, an associate at the firm, which is a partnership with Dallas firm Gardere Wynne Sewell. “We are taking all the health precautions that the Government is advising.”

In addition to the surgical masks, lawyers and staff were making a point of washing their hands frequently and are trying to limit contact with clients as much as possible. When feasible, lawyers opted for telephone contact with clients instead of meeting face-to-face, Najera said.

Over the weekend, the Government cancelled hundred of concerts and sporting events where large numbers of people might come in contact with each other. Following the advice of government health officials, any worker at Gardere with flu-like symptoms was encouraged to stay home.

The firm was considering closing the office and allowing lawyers to work from home, but had not made that decision yet, Najera said.

An office closure might be more realistic if the firm’s clients decide to temporarily close shop, Najera said. So far, that has not happened on a large scale.

For lawyers in the Mexico City office of Dallas firm Haynes and Boone, it has generally been business as usual since the swine flu outbreak began.

“It is a little bit slower than usual, but people seem to be reacting very rationally to this,” said William Buckley, a partner who has worked in the Mexico City office for nine years. “I do not feel threatened by anything at this time.”

Buckley said that the firm had not closed its office – which houses about 20 lawyers – and had no plans to do so. Although police officers were handing out surgical masks at a tollbooth heading into the city during the weekend, he said, people in his office generally were not wearing the masks.

“We are socialising as normal, but we are not shaking hands,” Buckley said.

While Haynes and Boone lawyers do not seem to be sweating the swine flu scare, they may have been sweating nonetheless. The central air conditioning in their 20-story office building had been shut off to avoid any spread of the virus, just at the same time as the city was hit with higher-than-usual temperatures.

This article first appeared in The National Law Journal, a US sister title of Legal Week.

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