Life as a high flier

How many lawyers can you fit into a jumbo jet? The answer depends on who is paying the bill.

If the firm's client is footing the bill for a long-haul flight, the lawyers will usually travel business class or the equivalent, never first class or Concorde, unless, perhaps, the client is British Airways. The reasoning is that time is money, and the lawyers should be working while in transit.

City firm Linklaters & Paines has an in-plant arrangement under which travel agent Hogg Robinson's staff run a mini agency from the practice's office.

Another City firm, Herbert Smith, also has an in-house agency, Gray Dawes, which it has used for about four years.

Facilities manager Phil Page says the arrangement is reviewed every year and the on-site arrangement is essentially “all customer and client-driven – it means that a sudden change of itinerary or any other change of plan can still result in an immediate issue of tickets”.

A number of firms are reviewing their arrangements. Masons, for example, is in the middle of organising a beauty parade with a number of travel companies, including an on-line travel agency.

Masons partnership secretary Ric Martin comments: “It is a matter of balancing the convenience of having a printer on-site with the fact that the secretaries may start becoming travel agents. Theoretically, with an on-line service, there is the advantage of the ticket coming out immediately and there is the ability to surf through the system yourself.”

The administrators are looking for the best deal for the firm as well as their clients, and an ability to obtain tickets with a minimum of fuss and maximum of flexibility.

Generally, the ticket type depends on the client and the journey. Firms have to weigh up whether there is a practical and monetary improvement at bureaucratic cost. Where appropriate, it is the client who will make the arrangements as both client and lawyers are increasingly aware of the need for value for money.

This is also the case when lawyers are attending conferences, which can be seen as part of the business of marketing the firm and the expense will often be paid for from the firm's budget. Although there there is no hard rule, and depending on the work and the journey involved, the lawyer will travel business class, or economy if they take a partner.

Often, the conference organiser, such as the International Bar Association, will negotiate a discount with a particular airline, where possible, which will then become the official carrier for a particular conference.

With delegates from 180 countries, the discount may not apply in all the delegates' home countries, but it is possible to arrange discounts with car hire agencies and hotels at the conference centre. Another advantage is that, as the preferred carrier for the conference organiser, all conference papers and paraphernalia will be carried on that airline.

Nabarro Nathanson has just reviewed its travel agency arrangements, and is reverting back to Columbus, which it had switched from the year before.

The main criteria for choosing a travel agency is the provision of first class service. Travel arrangements are part of providing a service to clients, so a good cost and discount scheme is important although not the driving force for choosing an agency, and continuity of the service rates is an important factor. The agency should also be familiar with the firm and its requirements.

Many firms require a proactive and responsive agency, irrespective of size.

The London office of Baker & McKenzie, for example, uses a West End agency where, as one of the larger accounts for the agency, the firm is able to negotiate good terms.

Baker & McKenzie's functions manager Vicki Reynolds says that although the firm had considered a direct link with its existing agents, its view is “if it isn't broken, don't fix it”.

She adds that on a practical level, although there is a policy that journeys of less than six hours should be economy class, the difficulty with the range of economy fares in Europe is that many have restrictions attached which prevent last minute changes. To retain flexibility most tickets end up being business class. “The requirement for flexibility frequently over-rides the requirement for economy,” she says.

The bottom line is that when travelling for the firm on business, whether for a client or the firm itself, lawyers should be happy with the efficiency and economy of the service and, depending on the airline and destination, they get a good share of available upgrades.

As Martin says: “In practice, you have to appreciate that the greatest frustration is that we are often working in different time zones. Things can go wrong – you have to have a travel agent who is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to sort it out. It has to be able to accommodate an international practice.”

The down side of air travel

A recent on-going case involved a Danish witness testifying by video link from Denmark to a Hong Kong court in a dispute between a Danish financial institution and a former subsidiary of Hong Kong company Wheelock Marden & Co.

However, most lawyers will still be globe-hopping at the behest of clients – and suffering from jet lag.

Jet lag is caused because the natural body clock is badly disturbed by any travel across time zones.

The director of health services at a well-known international airline re- commends that passengers who find it difficult to sleep while away should take a short-acting sleeping pill, one which will leave the body in six to eight hours.

Generally, the advice is that if a passenger arrives at a destination in daylight, he or she should not resist the urge to have a quick nap if it has not been possible on the aircraft. If a passenger arrives at night sleep is easier but a pill may still be needed for the first night or two.

If the stay overseas is for less than four days, try to stay on home time; for longer periods, change to local time as fast as possible.

During the flight, the advice is to avoid alcohol, drink lots of water, and try some in-flight exercises to keep the muscles moving.