And so it begins.
International law firm Reed Smith, which has offices in DC and Northern Virginia, rolled out its Global Ebola Task Force on Tuesday, making it the first of what we fear could be many firms to capitalize on the outbreak. In a press release, Sandy Thomas, Reed Smith’s global (are you noticing a trend here?) managing partner, declared: “The virus has the potential to affect international commerce and trade, not just on the African continent, but worldwide. Our Global Ebola Task Force will put Reed Smith in front of the legal challenges our clients face.”
The new task force is billed as “cross-practice,” which in law firm-speak means there’s nothing really new about it. Lawyers already working at the firm within a variety of existing practices are now simply branded as members of the Ebola group, ready to answer client questions stemming from the disease. (It’s the kind of marketing play that firms love—in the build-up to the new millennium, for instance, several started Y2K groups.)
So what kind of Ebola questions are cropping up? Lorraine Campos, a task force member and a partner in the firm’s DC office, says she’s received calls from pharmaceutical companies interested in the potential liabilities of attempting to develop a vaccine. She says other attorneys have gotten questions from companies wanting to know if they are legally obligated to hold an employee’s job open if the worker gets quarantined, or if they’re liable for employees who get infected while on business travel. So far, Campos says these have just been theoretical questions; the firm has not yet handled any actual cases or conflicts arising from Ebola.
Campos stresses: “We don’t want to sensationalize the threat of the virus, but we do want to help prepare our clients.”
(And mass-distribute a press release about it.)