American Bar Association
General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Division

Solo
Fall 2002 vol. 9 Number 1

Time Off for Good Behavior

By jennifer j. rose

Pregnant lawyers do it. Lawyers who've been in car accidents do it, and so do lawyers serving in the military reserves. Europeans do it all the time. Even the president of the United States does it. So why can't solos and small firm practitioners take a month off from work? Truth is there's absolutely no reason why they can't.

Too many solo and small firm lawyers like to boast that they haven't had a vacation in years. We already know what they say about those bank tellers who've worked 25 years without a day off. While surely these lawyers aren't embezzling, do they consider themselves too essential or too precious to take some time for themselves? When it comes down to it, a month's vacation is just as easy to plan as a 10-day jaunt. A week-long trial in Buffalo can actually take you farther away from the office than a month in Maui.

*Plan, plan, plan ahead. Don't accept new cases or clients that bear the earmarks of intensive, time-sensitive activity within two months of your departure. Be upfront with clients that you're taking time off-at the inception of the relationship. It's amazing how understanding most clients can be. And those who expect their lawyer to be available 24/7/365 are the very ones who'll only call you after hours and weekends. (Do you really need those clients?) Crises that seem to demand attention within 24 hours often solve themselves in the space of three days.

*Warn ongoing clients of your impending absence. That "end of the year" work can always be done in November if everyone's working on the same schedule.

*Schedule your extended vacation so that it includes court holidays to maximize days that no one else is working.

*Fib about when you plan to leave and return. Plan to leave two days later than you say and return two days earlier. Midweek is a good time for departures and arrivals. You'll have the weekdays to get that essential "can only be accomplished during the week" work done.

*Have dependable backup counsel. Their utility ought to be good for something other than simply a nomination to your malpractice carrier. Even the most dedicated and competent office staff can't be expected to handle everything. Sometimes it's just enough for the secretary back home to be able to call your backup lawyer and verify if something's being done the right way.

*Anticipate surprises. Child visitation disputes always peak at Christmas, so be sure to address those issues around Labor Day (or Halloween at the very latest).

*Work like a dog before you leave, and work like crazy when you get back home. If that means extending your workday, working on weekends, that's what it takes. And if it means giving up those Wednesdays off, that is part of the price.

*Of course, you've provided those tending the home fires with your itinerary and phone numbers. Let your best clients know how to reach you in case of an emergency as well.

*Depending upon the client, even waiving charge-backs to the client for long distance calls can sweeten the bitter pill of your absence.

*Fax, phone, and e-mail make it easy to establish a virtual office just about anywhere short of the slopes of the Himalayas. If you're vacationing in a fixed position, such as second home or rental, creating that satellite office is even easier. Hotel business centers and Internet cafes abound just about everywhere on the planet.

*Anticipate that there's going to be a price tag attached to extended vacations. Obviously, a month without billable hours means lean times will follow while your overhead remains the same.

*Play kind and generous with opposing counsel-even more so than usual-when it comes to their requests for additional time and continuances.

jennifer j. rose, editor-in-chief of GPSolo, made her first month-long escape from practice in 1981. Now living in Mexico, she can be reached at jenniferrose@abanet.org.


 

 

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