Rules for the Road
California Lawyer

Rules for the Road

As the economy weakens, some lawyers find that they're actually traveling a lot more than they used to. How do you keep the wear and tear to a minimum? Here are six easy-to-follow rules.

April 2009

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Road Warrior Ryan S. Goldstein had never experienced anything quite like it: Within 72 hours of getting a phone call from a Japanese client, he and two other attorneys from his firm were in Japan for three days of nonstop meetings with the client's top 40 executives. "We had meetings on Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges in Los Angeles and cohead of the Tokyo office. "And the CEO was there for every minute of the meetings."

A lawsuit relating to the client's core products had prompted the last-minute business trip halfway around the globe. But the fact that the company - like so many others today - was already in the midst of layoffs made its need for legal hand-holding all the more acute.

"Sometimes in a recession, when people are under pressure anyway, pending litigation can take on greater significance," explains Goldstein. "If the company is not doing well as a whole, the litigation can threaten the life of the company."

And so, even though the economic downturn has meant a cut in travel for most business sectors, many California lawyers are finding that urgent needs from recession-hit clients are resulting in more - and more intense - travel. As David R. Snyder, a partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman in San Diego, puts it, "The importance of the relationship is heightened in tough times."

But the extra travel required to maintain those relationships can take a toll. Even for those who ordinarily like to travel, living out of a suitcase can, after a while, become a serious drag. How do you keep the road wear to a minimum? We talked to the most frequent of frequent flyers we could find and came up with six simple-to-follow rules.

1. Remember the Home Front
One key challenge for attorneys on the road is keeping up with their clients back home. What should you do, for example, when - in the midst of a grueling trip to help a company with a particularly painful round of layoffs - you get a desperate voice mail from a client whose merger is falling apart? Obviously, you want to satisfy all your clients, regardless of where you are. Because if you can't satisfy them, there's a good chance they'll just find another lawyer.

To avoid that, there's no substitute for thinking ahead. For example, Maria P. Sendra, a partner at Baker & McKenzie in San Diego who travels at least twice a month, goes out of her way to meet with clients and client investors whenever she's on the road, even if a deal isn't brewing. Then, if she can't travel to be with a particular client when a transaction does come together, the strength of her ongoing personal relationship with that client can help her make the transaction go smoothly from wherever she is.

A smart use of technology can also keep you in touch with your clients. But smart is the operative word. For instance, some attorneys might think it prudent to keep clients apprised of their whereabouts - no matter how long they're away. Bad idea, says Anthony J. Oncidi, a partner at Proskauer Rose in Los Angeles whose "out of office" email messages stipulate only that he's traveling for the day, even if he'll be away a lot longer. However, Oncidi does make sure that he stays on top of all requests for help when he's on the road. And that means returning all calls and emails before the end of each day.

2. Use Technology to Extend Your Range
Technology can also help you feel like you're in two places at once - perhaps off somewhere having a life, but all the while remaining available to your clients at a moment's notice. Recently, while visiting Paris with her husband, children, and parents, Sendra was working remotely on a deal that kept getting bogged down. Finally, after the deal had several false starts, Sendra decided she could step away from work for some family time.

But then, while she was sitting at a café facing Notre Dame with her entire family, Sendra heard her BlackBerry ring. The acquisition was moving forward, and she needed to be on the phone within 15 minutes for closing negotiations. She ran back to her hotel to be at her laptop - and then spent several 15-hour days with her BlackBerry to close a complex, multimillion-dollar biotech deal.

To make sure that she's ready for such circumstances, Sendra always calls her phone carrier before traveling to get details about international roaming agreements. Also, as soon as she gets to her hotel room, she checks for the best phone-reception spots and boots up her laptop to confirm there's a good Internet connection. That way, she knows she won't have to fuss around with telecom protocols or reception problems moments before starting a critical meeting.

   

3. Beware of Taxi Drivers and Other Hazards
Security can be another concern for attorneys who travel frequently - and physical security threats come in all shapes and sizes. For Sendra, one such enduring memory is the Manhattan taxi driver who, during her ride, expressed his admiration for serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Then, too, she remembers another taxi driver who sped along one-way streets in the wrong direction while reading a BlackBerry wedged between his knees. So now, Sendra says, "I really don't take cabs." Instead, she has her hotel arrange a town car service.

You might think that's a little too cautious. But, at the very least, rather than hailing a cab on the street, you should ask someone at your hotel's front desk for a cab recommendation. Dino T. Barajas, a partner in Morgan, Lewis & Bockius business and finance practice in Los Angeles, started doing that a dozen years ago after hearing some straight talk from a benevolent taxi driver he'd flagged down in Mexico City. "They see you in a suit with a briefcase, and you become a target," the driver warned him. And when Barajas explained that he could save money - and therefore tip better - by hailing his own taxi, the driver continued to insist that Barajas was being foolish. "For me, it was a shock," Barajas says. "He was telling me, 'Don't put money in my pocket. Be safe.' "

Being safe also means avoiding health risks. For instance, to avoid dehydration nearly all the attorneys we spoke with recommend drinking lots of water when you're airborne - instead of alcohol. And for the longest flights it's also important to get up and walk around the plane every so often. Barajas himself used to ignore that advice, until one of his partners had a massive thrombosis-induced stroke on a flight to Tokyo. He also has the example of one of his in-laws, who suffered a stroke and died at the gate after a long flight. So, Barajas no longer has any qualms about tapping the passenger in the aisle seat and asking, "Hey, can I leap over you?"

4. Choose Your Airport with Care
Though your destination to a great extent determines which airport you will use, there is a certain amount of flexibility when connecting flights are required. When traveling to Europe or farther east, the preferred airport for a layover appears to be London's Heathrow. "It is so big, and the duty-free shopping is so varied," says Pillsbury's Snyder. "I don't buy anything, but I love to look. It's a great crossroads."

Sendra also favors Heathrow, particularly its Virgin Atlantic lounge, where you can get a haircut or even take a Jacuzzi. "Everyone sitting down in that lounge has a smile from ear to ear," she says.

During the winter months, traveling attorneys should try to avoid airports in places like Chicago and Denver, where they can easily get trapped in bad weather. Better to fly into someplace like Dallas-Fort Worth. Seasoned travelers also say they like Mexico City and Paris, because hotels are built right into the terminals. Miami International, meanwhile, is great for its cosmopolitan cuisine, while New York's JFK, because of its size, is better than La Guardia for getting connecting flights. For the same reason, Oncidi likes LAX. The Burbank airport may be easier to get to, but once you're there, it can be tough to get out if flights are canceled or plans change at the last minute.

Some lawyers' airport preferences are inspired by simpler yearnings. One attorney (who asked not to be named) likes to fly through Salt Lake City in order to stop at the airport bar for a bottle of the local brew, Polygamy Porter. Its slogan: "Why have just one?"

   

5. Be a Loyal Customer
For creature comforts and putting yourself ahead of the pack, it's difficult to overstate the importance of being a repeat customer. Whenever Snyder has business in London, he tries to stay at the Dukes Hotel off St. James Road. They know him there, so he generally gets the royal treatment whenever he shows up - even if he's dressed in jeans and looking haggard after a long transatlantic flight.

Patronizing Singapore Airlines has certainly paid off for Jai S. Pathak, a partner in the Los Angeles office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. The day he was to leave Mumbai last December, Pathak was determined to squeeze in an extra meeting, after a scheduled conference already had run too long. By the time he was en route to the airport, the streets were jammed with rush-hour traffic. "I was pushing the envelope on time," he admits. No surprise, then, that when he finally got to the airport, his flight had boarded, the aircraft door was shut, and no one was at the departure gate.

But Pathak - who usually flies twice a month to destinations such as Singapore, Mumbai, and Hong Kong - quickly asked a luggage porter to call an attendant on his scheduled flight. If he missed his flight, he explained, he would miss Christmas at home - a major no-no, as far as his family was concerned. As it happened, the boarding attendant recognized Pathak from previous flights and said not to worry. Soon enough, the aircraft door was reopened and Pathak took his assigned seat, homeward bound for the holidays. "The only reason that happened is that I'm such a frequent traveler," Pathak notes.

6. Expect Snafus
For all their careful planning, seasoned travelers know enough to expect the unexpected. And here's where having the right attitude can make all the difference in the world.

Last year, while flying home from Beijing, Proskauer Rose's Oncidi wondered to himself how business-class travel could have gotten so uncomfortable: His cramped seat didn't recline very far, and the food wasn't very good, either. Not until Oncidi landed in Los Angeles did he notice that the 747 had a whole second level upstairs. Put it down to traveler fatigue - or maybe to the fact that Oncidi hadn't been wearing his contacts and the type on his ticket was faint. Whatever the cause, Oncidi spent the entire 13-hour return flight in coach while his upper-level, bought-and-paid-for business-class seat remained empty. "It's unbelievable that I didn't put two and two together," Oncidi says with a laugh.

When it comes to frequent travel, be sure to pack a sense of humor.

   


Jeanette Borzo is a senior editor at California Lawyer.

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