A few weeks ago, the phone calls from clients started trickling in.
From hotels asking about protocol for containing infectious diseases. From the operators of corporate planes asking about safety standards for passengers. From hospitals asking whether they could restrict employees’ travel plans.
So Reed Smith, the international law firm with 1,800 attorneys in the United States and abroad, decided to form a group of 20 attorneys to field client calls about Ebola concerns and coordinate among themselves to become experts on legal questions businesses are facing as the Ebola crisis continues.
The firm, which announced the initiative on Tuesday, is calling the group an “Ebola task force.” Its members are attorneys spread across the firm’s U.S. and European offices, and their backgrounds span several areas of the law, including aviation, health care, employment, government contracting and insurance law.
Four of the 20 attorneys are based out of the firm’s Washington-area offices — health-care lawyers Julia Krebs-Markrich and Celeste Letourneau, government contracts attorney Lorraine Campos and insurance recovery lawyer Gary Thompson, who is also the managing partner of the D.C. office.
Reed Smith is believed to be the first major U.S. corporate law firm to announce a multidisciplinary group aimed at handling legal issues arising from the Ebola outbreak.
The firm declined to name clients, but said that the concerns raised by businesses run the gamut, from what kinds of restrictions a company could impose on its employees’ personal and business travel, to what a shipping company’s liability would be if a stowaway infected by Ebola boarded a vessel and later spread the virus.
“These are not simple questions or simple answers,” said aviation attorney Patrick Bradley, who is leading the task force. “Safety and common sense are paramount, but they’re also guided by World Health Organization directives, and each industry has its own regulatory overlay as well. These are complex questions, which is one of the reasons we feel that having a multidisciplinary task force is important so we can provide more holistic answers to questions being raised by Ebola.”
Campos has been advising contractors who do aid work and have employees in Africa on their duty to test their employees or bring them back to the United States. She also represents pharmaceutical companies looking into developing Ebola vaccines and airport security providers deliberating what types of safety protocols to consider.
“At this point, most of my conversations have been hypothetical as companies are reading about the few cases here in U.S.,” Campos said. “Many of us are saying, ‘What happens if this should expand?’”
More from Capital Business: