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Wake Up Call: Baker McKenzie Shuts London Office in Virus Response

Feb. 28, 2020, 1:25 PM

In today’s column, major law firms continue to take precautions in response to the spreading coronavirus; Cooley is advising U.S. legal tech company DocuSign on its acquisition of Seal Software, a pioneer in legal artificial intelligence tools; Several firms are advising in a $1.1 billion sale ordered by federal authorities of a Massachusetts gas distributor linked to a fatal explosion last year; and Allen & Overy appointed a new global managing partner.

  • Leading off, Baker McKenzie confirmed it has closed its London office and told staff to work from home, on concerns a staff member might have contracted the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19. The firm’s emailed statement said: “Our priority is the health and wellbeing of our people and our clients and we have asked our London office employees to work from home for the time being while we are taking precautionary measures in response to a potential case of the COVID-19. We have a well-established agile working programme--including technology and IT systems for home working--which allows us to take these precautionary measures without impacting our client service delivery.” U.K. press reports said the staff member had recently returned from a trip to Italy, which is among the countries hardest hit by the virus, outside of China. (RollonFriday.com) (LegalBusinessUK.com)

  • Shearman & Sterling, Sullivan & Cromwell, and Morgan Lewis, are among several other Big Law firms that have taken various precautionary measures to protect attorneys, staff, and clients, from possible spread of the virus. (American Lawyer) In Milan, Italy, several firms said they are closing their offices. (American Lawyer)

  • Law firms are considering pulling out of a major property market eventin Cannes, France, next month, over coronavirus concerns. (The Lawyer)

  • In the U.S., the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has drawn up plans for dealing with the virus. (BLAW)

Lawyers, Law Firms

  • U.K.-elite firm Allen & Overy elected its projects group and energy head, Gareth Price, to a four-year term as global managing partner, to take over from Andrew Ballheimer on April 30. Earlier this week the 3,000-plus lawyer firm elected senior partner Wim Dejonghe to a second term. (AllenOvery.com)

  • As Texas firms increasingly contend with fierce competition from big out-of-state firms, Houston-founded Vinson & Elkins said its focus on “sophisticated” work paid off last year, as its gross revenues rose 6.1% to $792.6 million and average profits per equity partner surged 11.2% to $2.80 million. (Texas Lawyer)

  • Holland & Knight named public finance transactions lawyer Woody Vaughan to serve as executive partner of its Atlanta office. He takes over from litigation and disputes partner Allen Maines, who steps down as Atlanta office head after six years. (HKLaw.com)

  • National Law Journal profiled what it calls a “new generation of DC fixers,” who are younger, more diverse, and digitally adept than their predecessors. (National Law Journal)

  • After more than two decades at L.A.-founded O’Melveny & Myers, longtime M&A partner Matthew Erramouspe is leaving to move in-house at Legendary Entertainment LLC. (BLAW)

Deals

  • Sidley Austin and WilmerHale advised NiSource Inc. in the sale of the gas distribution business of its subsidiary Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, to Eversource Energy for $1.1 billion. The sale was a condition of Columbia Gas’ agreement this week with U.S. authorities stemming from the fatal 2018 Merrimack Valley gas explosion in Massachusetts. Columbia Gas also agreed to pay a $53 million criminal fine. Ropes & Gray advised Eversource on the deal, which still has to be okayed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities. (Boston Business Journal) (Bloomberg Radio) (NBCBoston.com) (PRNewswire.com) (Nasdaq.com)

  • San Francisco-based DocuSign, advised by Cooley, is buying U.K.-founded Seal Software, which develops artificial intelligence for contracts, for $188 million. Legal tech blog Artificial Lawyer called Seal Software “the founding father of legal AI, which started back in 2010.” (Artificial Lawyer) (TechCrunch.com)

  • Deal update: Goodwin Procter advised CRM software maker Vlocity, Inc., which agreed to be acquired by Salesforce.com Inc., advised by Sidley, in a $1.33 billion deal between San Francisco companies. (Salesforce.com)

  • Health care liability insurer ProAssurance Corp., represented by Sidley and Burr & Forman, agreed to buy medical professional liability insurer NORCAL Mutual Insurance Co. in a $450 million transaction, with additional contingent consideration of up to $150 million. NORCAL is advised by Mcdermott Will & Emory. Mayer Brown also advised in the deal. (Insurance Journal) (MWE.com)

  • Brokerage INTL FCStone, advised by DLA Piper, agreed to acquire online trading company GAIN Capital, represented by Davis Polk, for about $236 million. (PRNewswire.com)

Reports

  • Fenwick & West’s latest technology and life sciences IPO survey says 2019 was another “robust” year for the market, despite some bouts of volatility and other hiccups. (Fenwick.com)

  • Dechert posted recommendations by its antitrust/competition lawyers to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission on their draft vertical merger guidelines. (Dechert)

Laterals, Moves

  • King & Spalding added to its dozen lateral hires for February, grabbing Jones Day construction lawyer Stephen O’Neal as a partner in its construction disputes and international arbitration practice, based in San Francisco. (KSLaw.com)

  • Cole Schotz added bankruptcy and restructuring lawyer Justin R. Alberto as a member in Wilmington, Delaware. Alberto was co-chair of the corporate bankruptcy and restructuring group at Bayard P.A. (ColeSchotz.com)

  • Blank Rome added consumer finance lawyer Jonathan F. Ball, a former vice president and assistant general counsel at JPMorgan Chase & Co, in Philadelphia as of counsel. He arrives recently from LaRocca Hornik Rosen & Greenberg. (BlankRome.com)

  • Blank Rome also hired Frank Spadafino as its new chief information officer. He arrives from Hughes Hubbard & Reed, where had the same role. (Blank Rome)

  • Alternative dispute resolution services provider JAMS added international aviation lawyer James Healy-Pratt to its panel in New York. He’s a former general counsel of London-based insurer Amlin, and spent 13 years as a partner at law firm Stewarts. (JAMSadr.com) (LinkedIn.com)

Legal Actions, Decisions

  • A Florida court suspended the law license of former Miami-based Locke Lord partner Mark S. Scott, who was convicted by a New York court last year of laundering $400 million from a Ponzi scheme based on the fraudulent cryptocurrency OneCoin. (DailyBusinessReview.com)

  • TransUnion LLC ‘s Kirkland & Ellis lawyers got a federal court to knock $20 million in punitive damages off of a $60 million jury award for placing terrorist alerts on consumer credit reports and sending confusing information on how to get them removed. (BLAW)

  • A Dallas judge has had her law license suspended five times for failing to pay her dues. (Texas Lawyer)

Technology

  • A client-centric, tech-powered subscription plan can generate predictable income for law firms, according to speakers at the ABA Techshow in Chicago. (ABAJournal.com)

To contact the correspondent on this story: Rick Mitchell in Paris at rMitchell@correspondent.bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; Darren Bowman at dbowman@bloomberglaw.com

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