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April 21, 2010 6:13 PM

Under the Volcano: Tales of Stranded Lawyers

Posted by Ed Shanahan

The ash cloud created by the eruptions from Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull Volcano is finally beginning to clear and Europe's airports are restarting normal operation, but plenty of global travelers remain grounded. We heard from two of them--Wilmer co-managing partner William Perlstein and Reed Smith partner Jacqui Hatfield, who filled us in on their experiences weathering what is surely a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.

BILL PERLSTEIN, CO-MANAGING PARTNER, WILMER

RESIDENT IN: Washington, D.C.

TRAVELED TO: Several European cities/offices

ORIGINAL RETURN DATE: Friday, April 16, 2010 (from Brussels)

ACTUAL RETURN DATE: Wednesday, April 21, 2010 (from Frankfurt)*

I am one of the firm’s six self-identified "ashers." I was in Europe last week visiting the firm's offices in London, Berlin, Frankfurt, and Brussels; I had planned to return home from Brussels last Friday. I arrived there Thursday morning from Berlin and immediately went into a client meeting. While at lunch, I learned of the volcano. It didn't seem like a big deal, but I soon learned that the Brussels airport was closing. My secretary was off that day, so my travel arrangements were handled by two of her colleagues in D.C.; they called the airlines, trying to find the best way for me to get back to D.C. They booked me on a train to Frankfurt scheduled to leave at 7:25 am Friday morning--at that point, the Frankfurt airport was still open, and flights were taking off.

By the time the train pulled into the Frankfurt Airport train station, the airport had closed and the train terminal was a mob scene--wall to wall people, lines stretching forever, no one moving at all. I went into the airport itself to see what I could learn. It was empty--people had been told not to come to the airport. Lufthansa personnel knew no more than the rest of us. No one had any idea when the airport would reopen.

Four days later, I'm still in Frankfurt and hoping I'll be able to travel back to Washington, D.C., this Thursday. I’m not alone--two colleagues from the D.C. Office  have been with me since the weekend; a third arrived from Hamburg today. Our other "ashers" are in Kiev and London.

Sculpture With some time on my hands, I spent the weekend exploring Frankfurt. I am a museum person, and I also find the old cathedrals in Europe great to visit. I can suggest that if you’re ever stuck in Frankfurt for a few days, there's plenty to explore in the museums alone, especially The Liebieghaus sculpture museum and the Archaeological Museum. The Liebieghaus (photo above) is a wonderful collection housed in a villa. It traces historical developments from all over the world through sculpture. The Archaeological Museum houses finds from thousands of years back, including from the Roman outpost of Nida, which was located outside Frankfurt.  We had beautiful weather, so instead of taking cabs I walked all over the city. The River Main was a big attraction, and there are bike and walking paths on both sides of it. Sunday was devoted to a Seurat exhibition at the Schirn, a treat , and a wonderful ride courtesy of one of my Frankfurt partners to the former Cistercian monastery Eberbach in the Rheingau, which at one time operated a substantial vineyard. The monastery dates from the twelfth century--you can't find much of that in America!--and is now owned by the state of Hessen.

As enjoyable as this has been, not knowing whether you are here for a day or a week or conceivably longer does make for an odd experience. For colleagues with young families, it leads to a lot of stress, with spouses and children and childcare providers not knowing when you will come home. For the rest of us, it has meant missed meetings, long-distance lawyering and managing, and asking once again for understanding from our families. Of course, none of us is in danger, and having colleagues around makes it much easier than for those with nowhere to stay or work.

My final word on this: Thomas Friedman may say that the world is flat, but he forgot to mention those large bodies of water between the land masses.  

JACQUI HATFIELD, PARTNER AND HEAD OF THE FINANCIAL SERVICES ADVISORY GROUP, REED SMITH

RESIDENT IN: London

TRAVELED TO: Vancouver, Pacific Northwest (family vacation)

ORIGINAL RETURN DATE: Friday, April 16, 2010 (from Vancouver)

ANTICIPATED RETURN DATE: Thursday, April 22, 2010 (from Vancouver)

_PEN1341+g I have been on vacation with my husband and two young children since April 2. First, we were skiing in Vancouver and after that, we traveled to La Conner, a small resort town in northwest Washington state (photo at left). We were scheduled to return to Heathrow on Friday, April 16. I first heard about the volcano on Thursday. At that time, Air Canada was still hopeful our flight would depart. At 6 a.m. Pacific time Thursday, unable to reach Air Canada, I realized the flight would likely not depart.

Fortunately, my new BlackBerry enables me to stay in touch and be as responsive to clients as always, and I am able to edit Word documents easily, so technology has kept me functioning with few problems. Both my husband and I, who also is working, are available by phone and e-mail from 6 a.m. until 1p.m. Pacific time.  If anything, the time change has proved to be the biggest challenge; we have about five good hours of overlap with the U.K., but through it all, clients have been incredibly understanding and accommodating. Additionally, I am backed up by a reliably consistent team in the U.K. that has pitched in as well, attending meetings that I could not make. Other meetings have been rescheduled.

My husband and I tag team on telephone calls so one of us can always respond to the kids, who have been very well behaved during this drama and have had the benefit of a longer vacation and a good story to tell their friends when they return to the U.K. Also on the plus side, we were able to spend the weekend in Seattle, which we all really enjoyed.

*Editor's note: Bill Perlstein submitted the essay above on Tuesday, April 20, expecting he'd be in Frankfurt until Thursday; he and his colleagues (those with him in Germany) returned to Washington, D.C., Wednesday afternoon.

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