WHEN the great and the good of the Scottish legal profession gathered in Edinburgh for the Law Society of Scotland’s annual dinner last week, a small number of firms were notable by their absence. Lord Carloway, Lord President of the Court of Session, was one of several senior members of the judiciary in attendance, but representatives from Brodies and Harper Macleod were not.

The reason? After news that several cases of coronavirus had been confirmed in Scotland while the UK death toll continued to rise, the firms had asked their people to stop attending large events to try to help limit its spread.

Last month Harper Macleod was one of the first UK firms to announce that it would not be attending real estate conference Mipim, a mainstay of the legal calendar that takes place at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes each year. Mipim, which was due to take place this week, has been postponed until June after a large number of organisations followed the firm’s lead.

Harper Macleod chief executive Martin Darroch said that the firm has not put in place a blanket ban on its partners and staff attending events, but instead is considering the risk on a case by case basis.

“As soon as we saw the potential threat posed by the coronavirus, we immediately invoked our business continuity plan and we've stated publicly that our primary concern as a business is the health and safety of our colleagues and clients. That's why we were the first law firm to announce it wouldn't be attending the Mipim event in Cannes,” he said.

“We are continuing to do everything we can to reduce the risk related to coronavirus both from a wellbeing perspective for all colleagues and to enable Harper Macleod to meet its obligations to clients and stakeholders.

“For us it is all about applying common sense and making a judgement based on a risk assessment."

Brodies, which said it is “reviewing matters daily and considering Government guidance and best practice as it emerges”, has gone one step further, asking its people not to attend events which, like the Law Society dinner, have more than 100 people in attendance.

“Our primary concerns remain client service and continuity of our own business and ensuring we, as a business, take appropriate measures to mitigate any spread of the virus,” a spokeswoman for the firm said.

“For that reason, we have given thought to the business development and networking events that the firm hosts, and the events that our colleagues attend.

“That has, for now, included asking colleagues not to attend events hosted by others at which more than 100 people will attend, and not hosting events ourselves which have more than 25 attendees.”

It comes after at least two non-legal events due to take place in Scotland this week were cancelled as a result of coronavirus, which has now been listed as a factor in six UK deaths while the number of confirmed cases in Scotland has risen to 27.

On Monday the charity Diabetes UK confirmed that its Professional Conference, which was due to take place in the SEC in Glasgow next week, will no longer ahead. Yesterday, the Microbiology Society, which was due to welcome 1,400 delegates to its 75th anniversary meeting in Edinburgh at the end of the month, said its event has also been cancelled.

Although the Law Society made the decision to press ahead with its dinner on Friday night, the organisation has issued guidance to its staff and council members as part of its efforts to help stop the spread of the virus.

As part of this, anyone who has recently travelled from an affected country is being asked not to attend any meetings arranged by or on behalf of the Law Society. The organisation has also made anti-bacterial wipes and hand sanitiser available throughout its headquarters at Atria One in Edinburgh and is ensuring all door handles throughout its offices are regularly cleaned.

“We take the health and safety of our employees and volunteers seriously and therefore seek to provide a safe place and system of work,” a spokesperson said.

Yesterday Professor Jason Leitch, the Scottish Government’s National Clinical Director, told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme that suggestions the response to coronavirus was overblown were unfounded. “We are not over-egging this pudding,” he said.

Professor Leitch added that while the public should continue to go about their lives as normal, escalation measures to prevent further spread of the virus now look “inevitable”.

“Just now, all [at that time] 23 of Scotland’s cases can be linked to travel or people who have travelled,” he said.

“We know the route for everybody who has got an infection. When we stop being able to do that, which we think is now inevitable, we will have to do something different with society.”