It would be an understatement to say that the coronavirus pandemic has affected us all and the global economy. The hit on the macro economy makes belt tightening unavoidable for many businesses around the world. Financial markets have been erratic, the international supply chain has been disrupted, and companies across the globe are operating at reduced capacities. However, the uncertainty caused by COVID-19 has brought demands for certain legal practices in various regions.
Practices in demand
Law firms with highly regarded employment, corporate, healthcare, and insurance practices are experiencing increase in client queries as a result of uncertainties stemming from the coronavirus outbreak.
Employment – Employers are grappling with quarantine leave, sick pay and the obligations on employers to protect their workers. Lawyers have been working on a range of employment matters including terminations, work hours and wages, and workplace safety. Client employers have also been enquiring about the addition of standalone coronavirus clauses to their employment policies.
Corporate – Law firms such as Skadden, Paul Weiss and Linklaters mentioned that their lawyers were fielding calls from clients with disrupted supply chains or M&As that are under threat. Companies are keen to seek ways to back out of contracts or prevent deals from falling apart, for example, adding coronavirus on force majeure clauses in contracts that allow them to renege on or delay orders.
Health care – Health care lawyers have seen a spike in enquiries from clients since the coronavirus outbreak. Health care institution clients want to know not only how to respond appropriately to patients diagnosed with the virus or exhibiting symptoms of it, but how to address their employees and the community concerns properly. Hospitals and health care providers are keen to know how to confront the supply chain and liability issues.
Insurance – As the coronavirus continues to spread, companies will face more severe staff and materials shortages as well as event/order cancellations. They will then examine the scope of any available insurance cover. The early impact will be felt by travel, aviation, and marine insurers. Legal disputes and insurance claims across other businesses will follow.
Chinese firms continue growing among specific sectors during the coronavirus pandemic. In February, Han Kun Law Offices recruited a prominent dispute resolution partner in Shanghai and Haiwen & Partners had its second former Allen & Overy real estate expert join last December. Red Circle firm, Jingtian & Gongcheng, launched its Guangzhou office with a six-partner shipping and maritime law team. Due to the growing business in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, Shanghai-headquartered Hui Ye Law Firm also bolstered its Shenzhen office in March with the addition of three new partners for its dispute, finance, and IP practices.
Red Circle firm, King & Wood Mallesons (KWM), continues to expand the New York office with dispute resolution hires. In January, KWM recruited the entire New York team of Mishcon de Reya. The acquisition enhances the firm’s IP litigation with a focus on the life sciences, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals sectors.
Since January, law firms have continued recruitment drives in Singapore. Baker McKenzie Wong & Leow hired competition lawyer Harikumar Sukumar Pillay as an Associate Principal in the Competition & Anti-trust Practice Group that comes as competition authorities have been increasing the sophistication of regulations. International firms, such as Bird & Bird, Watson Farley & Williams and Kennedys, have also recruited new partners covering regulatory, transactions and disputes.
Despite the widespread impact of the virus, law firms continue to boost litigation dispute resolution practice in Hong Kong with partner hires. Nine of the seventeen key partner moves in the last three months in Hong Kong were in the arbitration, disputes, litigation, or white-collar defense practice. However, the resilient Hong Kong legal market is overshadowed by Orrick’s pull-out. The firm saw its large capital markets and private equity teams depart for Morgan Lewis just over three years ago and the departure of senior litigation partner Charles Allen to RPC towards the end of 2019 seemed to be the final straw for the US firm in Hong Kong, albeit the offices in Shanghai, Beijing and Taipei, as well as a longstanding Tokyo office, seem poised to continue to represent the firm in Asia.
 Kate Beioley, Corporate lawyers in high demand as coronavirus hits business, Financial Times, March 13,2020, https://www.ft.com/content/b3d2cc2e-637a-11ea-a6cd-df28cc3c6a68 (accessed on March 16,2020)
 Christopher Niesche, Singapore’s Baker McKenzie Wong & Leow Hires Competition Partner, Law.com, February 02, 2020, https://www.law.com/international-edition/2020/02/02/singapores-baker-mckenzie-wong-leow-hires-competition-partner/ (accessed on February 05, 2020)
 Anna Zhang, Law Firms Boost Singapore Practices, Law.com, March 4, 2020, https://www.law.com/2020/03/04/firms-bolster-practices-in-singapore-292-62713/ (accessed on March 04, 2020)
 Hughes-Castell, Legal Move Updates, Hughes-Castell, February 10,2020, https://blog.hughes-castell.com/2020/02/10/legal-move-updates/
  Dan Packel, Orrick to Shut Hong Kong Office as Asia Strategy Shifts, Law.com, March 19, 2020, https://www.law.com/2020/03/19/orrick-to-pull-up-stakes-in-hong-kong-as-asia-strategy-shifts/ (accessed on March 20, 2020)
Contributor: Fai Choi (Marketing Manager, Hughes-Castell)