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How to Survive Business Travel

By Jeanne Deprincen | Oct. 2, 2006

Law Office Management

Oct. 2, 2006

How to Survive Business Travel

Ever wonder how to survive the terrible flights, lumpy beds, and exhaustion that seem to accompany business travel? Some of California's most well-traveled lawyers share their tips. By Susan E. Davis

By Susan E. Davis
      Fourteen tips for making business travel more enjoyable
      Travel agent Paul Metselaar once had a client with what he calls a "doozy of a trial-exhibit problem." The lawyer lived on one coast, and the case involved a pig--"it was some kind of ag issue," says Metselaar, who confesses to being unable to remember the details of the case. What he does remember is that when the trial started on the opposite coast, the pig was just a piglet that could be transported, via airplane, in a standard dog carrier. But then the trial went on and on, as trials tend to do. And this little piggie got bigger and bigger, as pigs tend to do, until eventually it became a full-fledged sow, which created a full-fledged problem for the litigator in question.
      "You can't put a sow in a dog carrier," Metselaar explains. "But we still had to get her to the trial." So Metselaar, a former New York litigator who now owns Lawyers' Travel Service, which (not surprisingly) arranges specialized travel just for lawyers, assigned his agency's Special Services Desk concierge to figure out a solution. End result? "Someone cobbled together four giant dog crates to make a carrier big enough to transport the sow back and forth across the country," Metselaar says. "That worked."
      Now, you may not have livestock to ship to and from trials, but if you're on the road more often than you want to be, you may be dealing with other challenges--including the sense that modern airplanes are more like cattle cars than luxury jets. So we surveyed a number of high-mileage attorneys about the perils and pleasures of business travel these days. Here are their best tips for making your trips a little more, well, humane.
      1. Stay flexible
      According to Metselaar, the average attorney changes travel plans six times during each trip. "Attorneys are subject to the vagaries of clients, courts, and other attorneys," he says. "Moreover, 90 percent of their flights are booked just 48 hours in advance. Nonrefundable flights don't work."
      Gloria Allred, a partner in Los Angelesbased Allred, Maroko & Goldberg, agrees. "I need travel plans that can be canceled and rearranged at the last minute," she says. "I always need to be able to make alternative arrangements. Flexibility is key."
      2. Take care of yourself
      Joan Haratani, a civil litigator with Morgan Lewis in San Francisco who travels more than 100,000 miles a year, insists on good beds at her hotels. And she says she prefers the Kitano Hotel in New York City above all others, because "they have enormous vats of hot water available all the time and some great green teas. Little things like that make a difference."
      Craig Barbarosh, a 75,000-to-100,000-miles-a-year traveler and cochair of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman's national insolvency practice in Costa Mesa, says he'll stay only in hotels that have gyms. "I try to exercise once a day when I'm traveling," he says. "It's the only way I can handle the physical stress."
      Both Haratani and Barbarosh say they drink massive quantities of water to avoid getting dehydrated during their flights.
      3. Look for business amenities ...
      Many high-end hotels now offer attorneys a whole range of business services, including high-speed Internet access, conference rooms, wireless services, and even "war rooms" where attorneys can conduct mock trials, secretaries can work, and there's room for copiers, fax machines, and printers.
      "Attorneys are the Number One most lucrative clients for hotels," Metselaar says. "In fact, the rooms are just loss leaders at this point. The hotels really make their money off ancillary business services, like telephone calls, client entertaining, and meals."
      4. Or go for price
      Morgan Chu, a partner with Irell & Manella in Los Angeles and one of the National Law Journal's "Top Ten Trial Lawyers," travels at least once--if not twice--a week, to points ranging from Tyler, Texas, to Manhattan. He says he's grown to appreciate inexpensive hotel chains, like the Hampton Inn.
      "They're clean, and they have everything I need," he says cheerfully, "like a bathroom and a bed. Plus, they have free Internet service and free breakfast. I can't figure out why a $350-a-night hotel would want to charge you $22 for Internet service and $20 for a pot of room service coffee. I mean, aren't you paying enough already? And certainly the clients appreciate it."
      5. Fly off-peak hours ...
      If you've flown a red-eye lately, it may be hard to imagine that there's such a thing as "off peak" in the airline industry. But Robert Darwell, who heads Sheppard Mullin's transactional entertainment, media, and communications practice group in Los Angeles, swears it's the only way to fly.
      "I usually fly the flights that others tend to avoid, like the red-eyes and the early-morning flights back to L.A.," says Darwell, who regularly travels to New York, London, Paris, Seoul, and Buenos Aires. "That way there's a good chance of being upgraded, and I'm able to sleep on the plane."
      6. Or avoid off-peak flights
      Allred says she eschews both red-eyes and the typical fly-to-New York-on-Monday-fly-home-on-Tuesday sprints many attorneys subject themselves to. "I don't like the wear and tear," she says bluntly. "It's too hard on my system. I like to have a little time cushion around my work. If I'm exhausted, I don't do my best work. I need a clear mind to be able to think and strategize."
      7. Expect the worst ...
      For Chu, the trick to contented travel is to expect nothing but nightmares. "Just start out by assuming there will be an awful, long line at security," he suggests. "Assume your flight will be canceled, and then the flight after that will be delayed. Assume you'll be stuck on the tarmac for hours, with no air-conditioning, and assume that a young child will sit behind you and fool with his food tray the whole flight. If you don't experience all of those inconveniences, you'll be incredibly pleasantly surprised."
      8. Or accentuate the positive
      Haratani uses what she calls a "Jedi mind game" to get through the rigors of constant travel. "I actually look forward to the trips," she says. "I see it as five or six hours of uninterrupted time in a little airplane-seat office pod. It's a golden opportunity to be uninterrupted for hours at a time."
      9. Travel to fun places
      Allred, who says her favorite place to be is her home overlooking the ocean in Pacific Palisades, regularly travels to the East Coast and San Francisco for business. This year she also traveled to Chicago, Indianapolis, Dallas, and other cities on a publicity tour for her recent book. But where she really likes to go, she says, is where her daughter, Lisa Bloom, and two grandchildren live: New York City. (Bloom is an anchor on CourtTV.) "I try to arrange a lot of trips up that way," she says, laughing.
      Darwell believes that attorneys should figure out a way to get clients in fun cities. "During college I studied at the Sorbonne, and during law school I worked at the French Embassy," he says, "so I'm a Francophile. I always wanted a job that took me to France a couple of times a year, so I spent a couple of years learning the French media business and targeting clients there. I think too many people let their practice control their lives--I built my practice to match my interests."
      10. Outsource if necessary
      Many attorneys make their own flight arrangements or have their assistants do it. ("My assistant is a lot nicer than I am, so I'm always treated very well upon arrival," Darwell jokes.) But law firms--both large and small--are turning to travel-management companies to book their arrangements. Lawyers' Travel Service agents, for instance, can get airfare discounts for attorneys and know the ins and outs of travel for lawyers, including how to incorporate client billing numbers on itineraries, arrange multiple schedules for recruitment trips, and, yes, provide pig-savvy concierge services. And it can save assistants many hours staring at online booking services like Expedia or
      11. Keep the home fires burning (and choose a patient spouse)
      It's easy to stay in touch with the home office--what with PDAs, high-speed Internet connections, and law firm networks. Staying in touch with your real home (remember that?) can be much harder. Chu jokes that he's away so much that every time he returns home, he asks a friend to reintroduce him to his wife. More seriously, he concedes that neither he nor his wife loves his schedule, but they've grown used to it. "It comes with the territory," he says.
      Barbarosh, who has two young children and whose clients are almost entirely in New York, says he tries never to be away from home for more than two nights in a row. "My family is the most important thing to me," he says bluntly. "So I'll often fly to the East Coast one day and return the next."
      And Lynn Hermle, a partner with Orrick in Silicon Valley who travels a lot but doesn't really like to leave her family behind, often tries to bring them along on business trips. Darwell does the same if he's going to be gone for more than a week. (In fact, when he first responded to our emails, he was watching his children take horseback-riding lessons, down in Argentina.)
      12. Do what you gotta do
      Some attorneys never, ever check baggage (and, now, to avoid checking their "liquids," they are even FedExing their toiletries to their hotels in advance). Some always take the time for a massage at trip's end. Others choose international flights based on what movies will be playing. Some attorneys even go so far as to charter private jets to get to out-of-the-way destinations or for the sheer flexibility of the scheduling--despite the enormous cost.
      Darwell took matters further: He bought apartments in both New York and Buenos Aires and had his interior designer wife furnish them. "That's what's made the most difference for me in traveling to New York and Argentina," he says. "When I get into town, I'm immediately comfortable. I can take a nap right away without having to worry about check-in times, and I'm able to travel with a lot less luggage because I keep clothes in both places."
      Sheppard Mullin had no office in Buenos Aires when Darwell first started traveling there, so he set up an affiliation with a local firm that shared some clients with Sheppard Mullin. "That way, I have the comfort and regimen of an office in my home away from home," he says.
      13. Work on the plane ...
      Haratani uses her "seat pod" time to read case materials and go through her old emails. Barbarosh brings Bose noise-canceling headphones so he can work--and send a subtle message to aisle mates that he's not available for talking. He's also careful about keeping sensitive case materials well shielded from those around him.
      Hermle says she often upgrades to first class--on her own dime--so she can work more easily. And some attorneys even know to avoid the bulkhead seats, which have no seats in front of them where they can stow their carry-on luggage. By sitting in bulkhead seats they might waste hours of billable time waiting until the plane reaches a sta-ble altitude and they are allowed to unbuckle their seat belts and get things out of overhead storage.
      14. Or use the flight time to relax
      While some more-driven attorneys may try to get every billable hour out of every flight, others believe in relaxing, at least a little. Allred works hard on the flights out ("I get some of my best thinking and writing done on planes because I'm not interrupted," she says). But on the way home, she concedes, "I try to reward myself by reading a good book." Similarly, Chu works on his flights, but he also likes to "pull out a book or a magazine or listen to music for awhile. It gives me a break."
      Susan E. Davis is a contributing writer to California Lawyer.

Jeanne Deprincen

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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