Planes, trains and automobiles

Lynne Curry looks at how various regional firms tackle the problems of conducting their business across the country

Regional law firms, like their City counterparts, are looking for ways to top and tail their travel budgets. Flights are only used when absolutely necessary and many firms frown on first class train travel unless lawyers are actually working on the journey.

Says Lace Mawer Manchester managing partner Stewart Harper: “Generally our people travel by train unless there is a good reason to travel otherwise.” Flights to London cost around 30 per cent more than taking the train, and, says Harper, “from centre to centre, you don't actually save much time”.

A spokesman from a firm in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which did not want to be named, estimated that his firm spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on travel, 70 per cent of which went on trains. And he adds that if lawyers are attending courses, the firm insists that they share a car, which is often much cheaper.

Iain Fairbairn travels at least 15,000 miles a year by road, and the same again by train. His specialism in health service trusts with Bevan Ashford, the largest legal firm in the South West, takes him from his Bristol base north to Sheffield, south to the Solent and all over the M25 hinterland.

The hours he spends travelling have contributed to a study by Bevan Ashford of the feasibility of a chauffeured “battle bus” so that fee earners can make use of the time.

“This is my pet idea at the moment,” Fairbairn says. “When you're driving yourself, it's time lost, whereas on the train you can catch up with papers and talk – although the advantage of the car is that you can talk on the telephone with less embarrassment.”

Bevan Ashford's 350 fee earners tend to use the train for London, the car for cross-country journeys and Bristol Airport, 10 miles from the city at Lulsgate, for travel abroad and to Scotland, where the 7am plane lands them at the Glasgow offices of an associate firm in plenty of time.

Train and aircraft tickets are arranged by the general office through a local travel agency. There is a presumption that train travel will be second class. Besides the chauffeured car, says Sarah Ross, the firm's marketing manager, Bevan Ashford is also examining travel warrants that can be issued on the premises.

Excellent rail links from parts of the South West to London discourage car travel on that journey, but crossing the region by rail can be complicated and time-consuming. Sole practitioner Janis Purdy, who works from Clifton in Bristol, has to drive for 20 minutes to Bristol Parkway before a quick 90-minute journey to London. She buys a second-class ticket as and when she needs it, but hardly ever uses the train for cross-country trips.

“I often have to lump round stacks of files and it gets rather heavy by public transport,” she says. “I work a lot in Bath, which takes only 10 minutes by train, but it means a drive to Bristol Temple Meads and trying to park, and in the middle of the day there is never a space, so I tend to drive.”

Waste disposal work takes lawyers from Lawrence Tucketts in Bristol all over the country. Train tickets are arranged by a travel agent, which also fixes flights when they have to travel to Glasgow, where the firm has a co-member of the Quality Law Group. The agent also deals with European flights from Bristol Airport for seminars hosted by a co-member of the firm's European association.

Sue Silvey, marketing manager for Osborne Clarke, whose Bristol office has 90 lawyers, says that most non-local travel from the West Country will be to and from London. Osborne Clarke uses a travel agent to arrange the train tickets – the car journey to London is regarded in this region as a nightmare – and for flight seats to Europe, where the firm also has associates.

Bristol is the airport most frequently used for flights to Paris, Lyons, Brussels and Frankfurt, but offers no direct flights to Barcelona or Copenhagen, Osborne Clarke's other frequent destinations.

Lynne Curry is a freelance journalist.