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Legal News From Around the World

Paul Hodkinson

Lisa Shuchman

Mar 16, 2020

Welcome back to The Global Lawyer, our weekly summary of the important news and trends affecting the legal industry around the world.

As the coronavirus continues to dominate headlines and spread across the globe, we bring you the latest on what lawyers doing, plus important updates from key regions that you need to be aware of:

- Pandemic
- Lawyers and the (Tanking) Economy
- Firm Financials

I’m Lisa Shuchman, senior editor of International. My colleague Paul Hodkinson and I invite you to check out our daily international coverage here.


The coronavirus, now officially labeled a global pandemic, has spread across the globe. The story continues to change rapidly. While the number of newly diagnosed cases in China is falling, Italy is in full lockdown and the number of deaths in the country, as of Sunday, jumped 25% in one day, to 1,809. The staggering number of people falling ill is putting a strain on the country’s hospitals. The rest of Europe, including France, Germany, and Spain, is bracing for the worst. Spain and France have ordered the closing of all non-indispensable businesses, including restaurants and bars, and are directing people to stay home. Germany is closing its borders, as have other countries in the European Union. Some countries in Latin America are banning international travelers from Europe.

In the United States, which has banned visitors from continental Europe as well as from the U.K. and Ireland, the pandemic is spreading fast. Major cities are all but shutting down. Roads are empty. Schools have closed. Universities (including law schools) have shut down and are moving classes online. Supermarket shelves are bare. The number of confirmed cases of the virus is growing exponentially — even though most Americans still do not have access to testing. Meanwhile, Americans are looking at their retirement savings disappear as the markets tank and the world moves toward a global recession.

Of course, the legal community worldwide is affected as well — law firms have shuttered offices, firms are trying to figure out how to keep working amid the pandemic, courts are shutting down and lawyers and law firms staff are among the tens of thousands globally who have tested positive for the virus.

In the past week, we’ve reported that in Australia, Clayton Utz closed temporarily after a coronavirus scare and King & Wood Mallesons, Norton Rose Fulbright and Jones Day closed part or all of their Sydney offices and told their respective employees to work from home to prevent potential coronavirus transmission. In New York, a Quinn Emanuel partner tested positive for the virus, prompting the firm to close its New York office and instruct its lawyers and staff to work from home. Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath temporarily closed all 22 of its offices, including those in London, Beijing, and Shanghai, after lawyers and staff were potentially exposed to Covid-19. (It has since reopened all but its two offices in Washington D.C)

In Hong Kong, a law firm partner at local boutique firm Kwan & Chow Solicitors and his wife both tested positive for COVID-19. And in London, Taylor Wessing closed its office following a confirmed case of COVID-19 among its ranks. In Europe, lawyers are working from home and expect to see more confirmed cases as the virus spreads.

And since Friday, global firms have begun to take action: Nixon Peabody told its lawyers and staff to work remotely beginning Monday. Baker McKenzie also told its workforce to work from home, saying it is closing all 10 of its offices in the U.S. as well as its location in Toronto until at least the end of March. Lawyers and staff at Weil, Gotshal & Manges and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman will also work from home beginning Monday. Willkie Farr & Gallagher has also asked all personnel, firmwide, to work remotely until further notice. And Reed Smith’s workforce began working remotely on Friday.

Needless to say, law firms worldwide — including Baker Mckenzie, Osborne Clarke, and others — have canceled all conferences and events.

In addition, many law firms, including Hogan Lovells, Linklaters, Slaughter and May, and Clifford Chance, spent the past week testing their remote working capabilities, aiming to ensure their lawyers and staff will be able to work from home en masse without running into major issues.

I, too, am working remotely from my home in New York City. Suddenly, the place known as the city that never sleeps is quiet. Millions are staying put. City officials have ordered restaurants and bars to close, limiting them to takeout and food delivery. Today my family dared to venture only as far as our Brooklyn stoop to take in a little sunshine. Schools have been shut down, so my kids are home indefinitely. Teachers in the nation’s largest public school district of 1.1 million students will eventually resume classes via online learning platforms. We hope social distancing will make a difference, but we are not optimistic. The official count as of this writing puts the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide at 169,387 and the number of deaths at 6,513. Authorities say those numbers will grow.


Lawyers and the Economy

One of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the dramatic decline in global markets, propelling us toward a worldwide recession.

So what will become of the many pro bono practices at global law firms that have grown in recent years? It might be assumed that these practices will be among the first to be trimmed or culled.

But reporter Christopher Niesche tells us that this is not so. Law firms around the globe insist they will maintain their commitment to their pro bono programs. And he explains that history shows this is what happened during the last serious global slowdown.

Also, the legal industry will likely have to tighten its belt now that the economy has tanked. But reporter Dan Packel tells us that law firms with highly regarded employment, cybersecurity, health care, and insurance practices are fielding a surge of inquiries right now, signifying there may be increased demand in those practice areas.

And in a sign of things to come for law firms worldwide, Asia bureau chief Anna Zhang wrote that China’s Yingke Law Firm announced it will implement a series of steps to help lawyers overcome disruptions caused by the coronavirus. These include lowering individual performance targets for lawyers.

“Obviously, we are going to have to revise our financial projections for the year — perhaps more than once.”

Giuseppe Pirola, president of Pirola Pennuto Zei & Associati, one of Italy’s largest law firms by revenue.

Firm Financials

We’ve reported the financials of several global firms over the past week, including:

Paul Hastings

Willkie Farr & Gallagher

Proskauer Rose

Winston & Strawn

Weil, Gotshal & Manges

Stay tuned for more in the coming weeks.


More Global Reads

Damage Limitation: How the Virus Outbreak is Shaping Deal Work

Singapore Gives University $10.7M to Develop Legaltech Research Program

Freshfields Signs Lease For New Frankfurt Office

Brazilian Bar Chapter Shutters São Paulo Seminar on U.S. Law

Clifford Chance Loses Two More in Sydney, Down to Nine Partners in Australia

When Will Chinese Firms Start Investing in Their U.S. Offices?

PwC Plans UK Cannabis Play as Budding Sector Goes Mainstream

Lawyers on Demand Continues to Make Inroads as Industry Disruptor

Freshfields, Latham Among Top Firms On $30B Merger of Insurance Giants


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