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Although litigators say they are returning to pre-Sept. 11 patterns of air travel, many attorneys are still adjusting and making changes in the way they run their practices. Immediately following the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, hearings, depositions and sometimes even trials were cancelled or postponed as witnesses and lawyers were unable or unwilling to fly. Now people are flying again, but life at the airports and in the air is not the same. Attorneys increasingly are using video and teleconferences to move litigation along, and are using their staffs in more creative ways — like scouting out airport lines in advance — to avoid wasteful delays. And since many scheduled flights are being cancelled because there are so few travelers, clients and witnesses are having trouble getting to where they have to go. “For people in my type of law practice, it’s had a significant impact,” says Paul Cereghini of the Phoenix office of Bowman and Brooke, who defends product liability cases in numerous cities. “It’s difficult getting to places, for depositions, hearings and trials.” “I’m still racing through airports,” reports Scott Lassetter of the Houston office of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. “There has been no effect on me. But there has been a profound effect on the willingness of others to travel. It’s harder to get people together.” “A large number of corporations have placed a complete halt on discretionary travel,” adds Malcolm Wheeler of Denver’s Wheeler, Trigg & Kennedy. While outside counsel are still flying, in-house attorneys and experts may be grounded, “unless they have some compelling business reason” to fly, he says. The days of jumping on an airplane at a moment’s notice are gone, says Elizabeth Cabraser of San Francisco’s Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein. “I had gotten used to traveling on the spur of the moment, changing my schedule daily. Now I’ll have to stick to my schedule.” But the most severe effects occurred right after Sept. 11. “We had a lot of partners stranded in remote areas after the airlines shut down,” notes Cereghini. “We had an expert stranded in Puerto Rico.” NO EXPERT WITNESS In Florida, an expert witness for defendant Ford Motor Co. refused to come to the trial for fear of being hijacked. The judge declined to delay the trial long enough to get a deposition and Ford was hit with a $15 million verdict. Most judges and other attorneys were more understanding, says Cabraser. “Courts allowed depositions by video or by telephone.” Cereghini says that opposing lawyers were agreeing to cancel or postpone depositions because of travel problems, “or even if the lawyers said they were distracted” by the events of Sept. 11. “Video conferencing was breaking out at an alarming rate,” adds Robert Saylor of Washington, D.C.’s Covington & Burling. Saylor was scheduled to conduct an arbitration in London, “[b]ut nobody wanted to fly there so we agreed to use a video conference instead.” At Minneapolis-based Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, Michael Ciresi reports, “In the immediate aftermath, people in the firm were told not to travel until things were back to normal.” But this cessation of travel did not and could not last long at his firm. “Most of our cases are outside Minneapolis.” The biggest current concern has been in delays at airports, but even there the attorneys have learned to adapt. Cereghini flew to Las Vegas last week to take a deposition. “I expected to finish, then fly back at the end of the day.” But, he says, “I heard the delays at the airport were up to five hours.” The lines at the ticket counter “extended hundreds of yards outside the terminal building.” He kept calling the airport and the airline to check on travel delays. “I waited until the lines died down and got a much later flight.” For the attorneys at Chicago’s Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott, travel is a constant. To make sure attorneys weren’t waiting for hours at airports, says Fred Bartlit, the firm has been using clients, firm personnel and others to scout out delays at airports. “Everyone is sending us information on conditions at various airports.” He notes that he put his secretary’s husband on retainer to check Denver’s airport during the early morning hours each weekend. Where and when delays are occurring varies dramatically. The worst lines, says Bartlit, are at airports that are airline hubs. The best times to fly are very early in the morning and very late at night, he adds. The attorneys report few problems with the security checks. While they’re being asked to take laptop computers out of bags, no one has been blocked from bringing the laptops on board. Frequent travelers have an easier time getting through checkpoints, Bartlit says. “If you’re a priority, high-revenue type of passenger, there’s no problem. If you’re flying regular coach, it’s real slow.” On one recent flight, he says, he was through the security line within 15 minutes. The attorneys report that screening can be somewhat uneven. Ciresi reports that on a recent trip, security personnel went through his shaving kit. “They broke off the file part of my nail clippers. I said, ‘Why don’t you just take it?’ She said, ‘No, this won’t take long.’ ” But, he adds, at another airport, the nail clippers went through without any challenge. RETHINKING TRAVEL Attorneys are rethinking whether constant air travel is as necessary as was once believed, Bartlit says. “Air travel is going to cost more. And no one wants to stand around for hours.” “Business people, including lawyers, have way overdone the perceived need to travel,” says Jim Gilbert of Denver’s Gilbert, Frank, Ollanik & Komyatte. In the future, he says, “there will be more depositions by teleconferencing or telephone. You don’t need face-to-face contact as much as we thought.” Teleconferencing has already increased dramatically, Saylor says. But, he adds, this is unlikely to replace travel completely. “I find it a very difficult way to conduct a business meeting — especially for a trial lawyer. You really like to read faces and body language.” With video conferencing, he says, “I completely lose that.”

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