Air travel in the legal sector: Time for a change in culture?
By Guest Blogger
[Eliza Bond is a guest blogger and summer intern at the LSA, and will be reading Law at Jesus College, Cambridge, beginning in October 2017]
Despite seeing a marked decline in overall carbon footprints of LSA members since our inception 10 years ago, it seems we have gained little traction in reducing air travel, with the average km per head still at 4,000. Although we have access to the technology to prompt the shift towards this reduction, law firms – for the most part – are reticent to take the plunge. Perhaps this is an indication that the problem is not practical, it’s cultural.
With traditional business practice reliant on face-to-face interactions, as well as the added importance of client relations in the legal industry, it is little surprise that air travel has become a necessity. Not only this, but with international travel acting as an incentive to climb up the employment ladder, there is an expectation that jetting across the globe is an afforded luxury gained when someone becomes a more senior lawyer. Although this problem may be to some extent mitigated by a generation of millennials – many of whom are technologically and environmentally minded – entering more senior positions, law firms need to take the initiative themselves and not rely on a gradual shift that may or may not occur.
Having said this, many firms have made giant leaps in introducing new technologies to reduce the reliance on air travel. For instance, in 2009 DLA Piper launched Telepresence, heralded as the ‘future of law communications’, in many of their US branches such as Baltimore, New York and Washington DC. This has now been expanded to the majority of their offices globally. Further still, in 2013 they launched a strategic internal initiative to reduce transport costs, which increased their usage of Lync, an instant messaging tool by 75%. We believe that with an increasingly globalized industry as a result of international mergers, other LSA members must follow in the DLA Piper’s footsteps.
Similarly, although only at a national level in the UK, Bond Pearce (which became part of Bond Dickinson in 2014) introduced HD conferencing units in 2007, saving over 165840 miles of travelling. There is little reason for this kind of technology not to be applied on an international scale.
Obviously, this kind of change cannot be unilateral. It not only requires the co-operation of multiple branches and firms, but also the co-operation of clients. Some matters ought and need to be settled face-to-face – this is accepted. Yet the majority of meetings do not need this kind of formality, especially in a world where the technology is so accessible and user-friendly. With several firms such as Morgan’s Solicitors, Burges Salmon and Nicholas Moore adopting policies to reduce commuter travel at a small scale, and indeed reaping the benefits of such changes such as reducing average emissions per employee, law firms urgently need to address their biggest contributor of carbon emissions.
Although at first it may be difficult to change the attitude towards eliminating air travel, it can soon become routine and will not only be extremely valuable for a company’s public relations and CSR records, but will also reduce costs which are, to some extent, unnecessary.
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