A Cautionary Tale Traveling with Family on Business
As editor of this edition of SOLO newsletter I attempted to get someone else to write this article. I found out quickly that few lawyers enjoy traveling with their families on business trips. I decided, based on my discussions with colleagues across the country, that my impressions were universal—traveling with family on business is not a favorite way to travel. But based on time constraints, the demands of practicing law, and perennial over-commitment with law-related organizations, I find myself traveling with family to a number of bar events and some client matters. Many lawyers find themselves in this position out of necessity. In making the decision whether to include family as part of a business trip, I map out some positives and negatives and some tips from my own experiences.
The Pros Are Few
There is some tax advantage to combining business with pleasure. My accountant recently advised me to plan every family vacation around a business purpose (tells you what a fun guy he really is!) You should consult your tax advisor on this issue, but you can deduct at least some portion of a trip that includes business. For client-related matters, you may have the ability to be reimbursed a portion of the expenses for the trips.
Because so many lawyers are pressed for time and limited by how many days they can be out of the office, combining a family vacation with business can allow you to spend some time with family while also accomplishing some work.
The Cons Are Many
You may feel like you are doing everyone—the client, bar association, and your family—a disservice. You can’t be in two places at once, so inevitably your spouse/significant other may feel you are spending more time with your client or with bar association colleagues than with him/her. If children are along, you have the added problem that your spouse is with your children and you are not, causing even more pressure to spend less time or energy on the business purpose. Children magnify this issue.
Your spouse or children may not mix well with the client or members of the organization—the greatest danger in my opinion.
The venue may be unfriendly. For example, you have children along but you find the hotel is not kid-friendly or the part of town you are in does not have desirable kid activities.
Many of the places designated for bar meetings and trade associations are quite expensive. You may find the family vacation costs more than you would normally spend due to the venue.
Plan ahead. Know your venue. Get familiar with the hotel and make sure it’s kid-friendly, i.e. swimming pool, activities for kids: daycare programs for single parents are a must. Practically every resort/hotel can be found on the Internet. Before you travel, take a look at the location, see what the pool hours are, what activities are available, or if it has childcare available.
Talk to your family. Make sure they know what your commitments are so you can keep them and see your family as well. Realistic expectations can avoid some problems. I always gave my spouse a schedule of the meetings I had to attend.
Take a couple of days with the family either before or after the business begins. Many times this adds the “vacation feel” and will address the feeling that you are not spending enough time with your family.
Choose wisely. If the venue is great for kids, i.e. Disney World or a great resort, then by all means include the kids and bring your checkbook.
In my experience, it’s been much easier to travel with your spouse/significant other on business trips as the spouse understands your limits, client needs, and your obligations. Including the children can be trickier and requires more advanced planning. There are, however, several resorts that my children only visited because a bar meeting was held there and they still speak fondly of them—years later. So it can be done, but plan ahead and use caution.
Joan M. Swartz is a solo practitioner in St. Louis, Missouri. She concentrates on small businesses as well as real estate, contracts, and civil litigation. Contact her at email@example.com.