Firms Offer Advice on Ebola Preparedness: Business of Law

Health-care lawyers and employment attorneys are using calming words in advising clients on Ebola preparedness. In newsletters, calls with clients and even marketing pitches, firms are recommending ways -- some basic and some more esoteric -- to deal with a potential health crisis.

Sandra DiVarco, a partner at McDermott Will & Emery LLP, said her health-care clients “have varying levels of concern and sophistication. Some are asking hard questions, while others are struggling to put all the pieces together” in an area where the risks and the regulatory guidance are in flux.

Questions arise on subjects such as privacy and how to reduce the risk of litigation stemming from the treatment of patients, DiVarco said in a phone interview.

Employers outside the health-care industry are also contacting attorneys to see whether they need to take any action.

As a result, employment law partners Jeffrey Tanenbaum and Jeffrey Gilbreth of Nixon Peabody LLP issued a memo advising clients on response plans for any outbreak of communicable disease -- whether it’s Ebola or the flu.

The memo stemmed from clients’ questions, Gilbreth said, because their employees are asking questions.

“We’re trying to tell them to be practical, not fearful. We’ve seen this with SARS, swine flu, even seasonal flu,” he said.

Their advice includes preparing protocols for basic precautions like disinfecting, knowing reporting requirements under federal and state regulations, and making business-continuity plans.

Gilbreth, who is based in Boston, said he’s not surprised by the calls he’s getting.

“Employers want to do the right thing” to protect their employees in an emergency, he said. “We sometimes get calls when a big snowstorm is coming.”

In the News

GM’s Top Lawyer, Criticized for Recall, Will Retire Next Year

Michael Millikin, General Motors Co.’s top lawyer, will retire next year. The general counsel was criticized after an investigation blamed his department for the company’s slow response to an ignition-switch defect that resulted in the recall of millions of vehicles.

The company will immediately begin an external search for someone to replace Millikin, 66, who will stay through the transition. He joined the Detroit-based automaker in 1977 and was appointed general counsel in 2009.

Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra fired 15 people this year after an internal investigation determined that lawyers and engineers didn’t respond quickly enough to evidence of vehicle defects now linked to at least 27 deaths.

Millikin, who appeared with Barra before a Senate panel in July, approached GM to say he wanted to retire, said a person familiar with the matter.

A report commissioned by GM from former federal prosecutor Anton Valukas found that lawyers aware of the fatal defects didn’t act with urgency. The report also said GM lawyers told employees to avoid using negative words in their communications that might attract legal scrutiny.

Millikin and Barra were cleared of wrongdoing in the report.

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Former Google Lawyer Lee Nominated to Run U.S. Patent Office

Former Google Inc. lawyer Michelle K. Lee is being nominated to run the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, filling a seat that has been vacant for almost two years.

Lee, 48, left Google in 2012 to run the patent office’s Silicon Valley outpost and was elevated to deputy director of the full agency in January. On Oct. 16, President Barack Obama announced her nomination for director, which is subject to Senate confirmation.

Lee would take over as the Obama administration seeks to establish a more efficient patent process to drive economic growth. Her background, including a decade-long stint at Google, may aid efforts to integrate the patent process in Silicon Valley and cut down a backlog of applications awaiting review from some of the nation’s largest technology companies.

The patent office hasn’t had a permanent director since David Kappos left in February 2013.

Lee was deputy general counsel, head of patents and patent strategy, at Google from 2003 to 2012, and previously a partner at Fenwick & West LLP, according to the announcement.

Brooklyn Prosecutor Lynch Said to Be Eyed for No. 2 Justice Job

Loretta Lynch, the low-profile federal prosecutor from New York, may beat Preet Bharara to a bigger job in Washington.

Lynch’s success convicting terrorists and white-collar criminals in her four years as the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn has made her a leading candidate for the No. 2 spot at the Justice Department, following a decision by Deputy Attorney General James Cole to step down, said people familiar with the matter.

While Lynch is under consideration to replace the departing Eric Holder as attorney general, former White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler remains President Barack Obama’s preferred choice, said the people, who asked for anonymity because they’re not authorized to talk about private discussions with government officials.

Lynch declined to comment, as did spokesmen for Bharara and the White House.

Lynch, 55, is in her second stint as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, having previously led the division that includes Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens and Long Island from 1999 to 2001. After leaving the U.S. Attorney’s Office, she became a partner at Hogan & Hartson, now part of Hogan Lovells LLP, until returning to the Justice Department in 2010.

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Law Firm Moves

Kirkland & Ellis Hires Two Lawyers From Covington & Burling

Mike Brock and Chad Morriss joined the Washington office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP as partners in the litigation practice group. The two previously worked at Covington & Burling LLP, where Brock was a partner and senior trial counsel and Morriss was of counsel.

The two attorneys have worked with Kirkland litigators representing BP Plc in Deepwater Horizon oil-spill litigation. Brock is lead trial counsel for BP.

Brock has tried cases in a variety of areas, including antitrust, malpractice and toxic torts, according to a statement from the firm. In addition to his BP work, he represents pharmaceutical and life-sciences companies, including defending them in product-liability lawsuits.

Morriss has served as lead counsel for corporate clients defending personal-injury, wrongful-death and fraud claims. He also represents pharmaceutical and life-science companies in product-liability lawsuits, with a particular emphasis on sales and marketing issues.

Fried Frank Hires New Head of Private Equity in Europe

Graham White joined Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP as a partner in the corporate department, head of the firm’s private-equity practice in Europe and managing partner of the London office.

White advises companies on mergers and acquisitions and counsels private-equity firms on management buyouts and buy-ins, leveraged buyouts and public-to-private transactions.

Before joining Fried Frank, White was a partner in the London office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP.

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