Providing travel arrangements for law firms is exacting and demanding but something that Wings Global Travel takes in its stride.
When a partner in any top US law firm counsels clients at a cool US$1,250 per hour reportedly, you can rightly assume that any travel arrangements to get him to a boardroom on time and in the style required, need to be absolutely spot on.
Law.com publishes an annual list of the largest law firms in the world ranked by revenue and the list comprises predominantly star-spangled US firms with a sprinkling of European, Chinese and Australian firms. Collectively they grew their revenue 14.7% in the 2021 fiscal year, which included several months into 2022.
Equivalent top UK lawyers’ hourly rates are lower than that eye-watering figure but nonetheless, time is money to any lawyer and the market is booming. London is home to four ‘Magic Circle’ law firms – Clifford Chance, Allen & Overy, Linklaters and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer – all battling it out to grow in the lucrative US market. It’s a dynamic and burgeoning sector and one that Wings Global Travel, headquartered in London, has been a part of for the last 20 years. For that length of time Wings has managed travel for one of the most prestigious global law firms in London. It has the undisputed experience in its team, managing the nuances of travel for this very particular industry and it is a growth area for the company.
Kim Parker, Head of Business Development, London at Wings, explains how the specialisation began two decades ago. “When we realised that we were managing the financial sector with incredible success and that the legal sector travel was very similar to the financial sector, we decided to branch out to grow the legal sector travel business.”
As a wholly-owned global business Wings can offer more consistency of service, standardised technology and best practice to clients unequalled by any franchise global operation.
Adds Parker: “WingsOne is our unified global service platform. It supports everything you do online or through personal interactions with our consultants. It provides access to content opportunities, fare and reservation data, traveller profiles, analytics and reporting tools, real-time notifications and more – a complete set of capabilities to deliver a great experience to travellers and to make it easier for you to manage your travel programme.”
Lawyers mostly travel singly or in small groups of two to five people and need to go to wherever the business is and often at short notice. Wings consultants regularly book legal clients to US destinations including New York and Boston, into Asia – very often Singapore – into the Middle East, for instance Dubai, and into South America, usually Brazil, and also to quite remote destinations. The destinations will depend on where the firm has its global offices or regional hubs so it could also be India, Korea and Pakistan, for example.
Recalls Parker: “We have assisted travellers to gain entry into the Ukraine via Poland and have managed travel and hotel reservations on their behalf,” she says. That’s no mean feat in the present circumstances. “This takes meticulous planning with regards to safety, security and traveller tracking abilities.”
Less challenging are European destinations such as The Hague, which is the permanent home of the United Nations’ International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration so a regular destination.
Lawyers, like any other high net worth individuals, have their predilections and favoured hotels and carriers and any travel team must be familiar with them. “We must have a full understanding of partner and director travel and unique traveller requirements, such as seating, preference of hotels and location of the hotel to the client meeting or firm location,” explains Parker.
Moreover, those particular needs require close attention and detailed responses. For example, timely responses to all travel queries are a given. Typical service level agreements (SLAs) for legal clients will state that all queries and requests for travel-related information will be responded to within a maximum of two business hours of receipt. Similarly, all reservations will be actioned within a maximum of three business hours of having been requested.
Wings builds a good working relationship with the bookers, who tend to be executive assistants (EAs), and this ensures consistent service delivery to the traveller.
Lawyers need proactive solutions and general advice for travel. It might be advice on the best way to get into a war zone or an inhospitable destination so that all risks are mitigated as far as possible. They certainly won’t expect to be hanging around airports for very long and expect connections with the shortest minimum connection times (MCTs).
Travel for these legal eagles isn’t necessarily all rarified first class and VIP meet and greet services. ”Each travel booking for a client will need to be billed to that client and the cost awareness around this is determined by the importance of the travel needed,” explains Parker. “In most cases convenience and a well-planned trip is more important than the costs, however this can vary from firm to firm.”
As a general rule, saving costs is not as valuable to the traveller as a direct route to a destination. Furthermore, sustainable travel is on the radar at legal firms.
Explains Parker: “Law firms are taking focused steps to manage areas such as climate change and this is now part of the strategic agenda together with areas such as equality and inclusion. It is generally managed by the global environmental sustainability committee, reporting directly to the CEO or COO.”
Wings Analytics, an application for analysing costs and other key travel programme metrics, makes it easy to create a green travel programme using accurate and consistent data.
Lawyers need out of hours support so they know they can get hold of one of their team before 9am and after 5pm. Wings provides a travel team available between 07:00 – 24:00; thereafter the Wings24 call centre in Manila provides the out of hours service. Delays and cancellations are a regular characteristic of complex travel arrangements, and more so in the post Covid world of business travel, so lawyers need immediate responses to changes during the entire booking process from pre-trip to during the journey itself.
It goes without saying that the basics have to be right too: access to competitive fares in business and first class and being able to manage billable expenses in the back office for easy financial administration of firm – client billing. It’s second nature to all travel consultants at Wings.
Wings is a flexible, service-orientated company that can tailor-make services and pivot and flex when necessary, which is ideal for the nuances of business travel associated with the legal sector.