Law versus the volcano: what some lawyers will do to get back to the office

If you had asked lawyers a ­fortnight ago what might cause the biggest disruption to their work you would have received a few different answers.

But you can be pretty certain that Eyjafjallajökull would not have been one of them.

As has been well enough ­documented elsewhere, the ­eruption of the Icelandic volcano has caused travel chaos across Europe, with tales of woe and ­evidence of British grit filling page upon page of tabloid newsprint.

The legal profession, of course, is made up of singularly resourceful people who will not allow a ­natural phenomenon spewing molten lava eight miles into the air to put them off their stride.

Take the tale of the team from Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) which, faced with a daunting trip back from Moscow, rejected the option of an extended stay in the Russian capital and instead plumped for a 57-hour trek of Homeric proportions.

Real estate partner David ­Battiscombe explains: “Once we realised we weren’t going on our flight back to London on the Thursday evening we did the only sensible thing and retired to a bar to discuss how to get back.”

Initial ideas included fleeing the approaching ash ­apocalypse by heading east through Tokyo and Toronto – “it felt right after a few beers, but very wrong when ­subjected to forensic scrutiny”, says Battiscombe – or risk an ­international incident by crossing the Belarus border sans visa.

Eventually, the BLP boys – a group that included chairman Peter Robinson and finance director Mark Tothill – decided to head to Madrid and take their chances.

The next leg involved catching the last plane out of Istanbul to Spain by a matter of minutes and a train thence to Bilbao, where things began to get complicated again.

Battiscombe continues: “As the train drew into the platform the realisation dawned that our unique plan to hire a car was shared by a good proportion of the other 200 people on the train.”

After a sprint “that would have shamed Usain Bolt”, the five-strong BLP crew managed to get the last car going – a Skoda ­available for the knockdown price of £2,500 for the day. “I think it’s called a seller’s market,” quips Battiscombe.

There followed another border crossing, a nine-hour drive through France, three hours’ sleep in a Caen hotel and a row with local police, who were threatening to tow the beloved Skoda before the five ­finally boarded their boat home.

“We’re fresh as daisies,” beams ­Battiscombe after making it back to the safety of the London office on Monday.

Somewhere further down the epic journey scale comes Dick Tyler’s escape from Frankfurt.

The executive partner for the CMS network took a total of five trains to achieve Calais, only to be faced with an hour-and-a-half walk to reach the ferry terminal, which was no longer accepting foot passengers.

Tyler was rescued by a passing law student who was being taxied onto the boat by her brother. According to Tyler, the good Samaritan did not even ask
for a job in return for the rescue ­operation. “At least not yet ­anyway,” he jokes.

With almost 50 colleagues stuck in one place or another around the world, Tyler admits that he got off relatively lightly.

“I got back 14 hours late, but I was one of the lucky ones,” he says. “It felt pretty epic, but I suppose I was quite fortunate.”

But not all lawyers saw the ash cloud as an opportunity to prove their ability to conquer the odds and get home.

Fred Krebs, the president of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) in Washington DC, found himself in London for a round table when the volcano erupted – and was still here at the time of writing last Wednesday.

“There are a lot worse places to be stuck, but I’m ready to go home now,” he says.

While managing to get some extra meetings into his diary, Krebs admits to also indulging in some sightseeing.

“This is one of my favourite cities,” he continues. “It’s been a mixed blessing, but when you get lemons you make lemonade.”

Stoicism, optimism, resourcefulness… The volcano with the name no one can pronounce seems to have brought out the best ­qualities in the legal profession.