THE HEALTH and safety of its people, and the continued ability to service its clients was the main objective for Minter Ellison, as it prepared for a potential outbreak of avian influenza that could affect its Asian offices and clients throughout the region.
And the plans were being approached at an international rather than a regional level.
Guy Templeton, chief executive of the Minter Ellison group, said the firm — with offices in Hong Kong and Shanghai and an association with Makarim & Taira S in Jakarta — was taking the threat of a pandemic very seriously and recognised the significant impact such an event would have on its employee’s welfare, and on the business.
“If any office in the Minter Ellison group is affected, it will impact the whole firm, so our planning is not office specific,” Guy Templeton, the firm’s chief executive, said. While the firm’s pandemic plan had considered office to office what would need to occur in the event of an outbreak, there were other elements that could be applied across the board.
A cross-functional taskforce was assessing the risks, and strategies to mitigate those risks at various stages of a pandemic outbreak, and the taskforce’s findings were being linked directly into the firm’s continuity plan, Templeton said. Elements such as infection control, employee safety and security, remote access to technology and resources, client service delivery and communication were all being considered.
“Presumably, if there is a real pandemic it is going to affect the whole firm, as it is going to affect our clients. We have gone into a reasonable amount of detail, but I stress that it links into our overall business continuity planning.” He said a pandemic was one of the worst scenarios that could face the firm, or any other Australian business, but the approach would be similar to that for other crisis scenarios.
“What we have tried to do is look at all the different impacts on the firm from the level of service that clients are demanding through to the safety and well being of our employees, through to what it might mean financially, and make sure we have thought through what our responses will be.”
Those responses would centre on how to best serve the firm’s clients and protect its assets. The firm had been able to learn from its experience of SARS in Hong Kong, Templeton said, and apply that knowledge to its pandemic plan.
In terms of Asian-based lawyers, operating under the threat, Linklaters managing partner Asia, Simon Davies, said people seemed less focused on the issue today than they were two or three months ago. “At an institutional level, however, we take the threat just as seriously as we did then.”
A Lawyers Weekly source based in the Hong Kong office of an Australian law firm, said people realised a bird flu pandemic would be far more serious than SARS. “But you can over-provide. You have to actually put it at the back of your mind — you have to know you have a plan, but you come back to it when you need it.”
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