General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

A service of the ABA General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

Technology eReport

American Bar Association - Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice

Nov 2008

Vol. 7, No. 4


  • You Can Take a Long Vacation
    How to free yourself from the chain connecting you to your desk.


You Can Take a Long Vacation

Many lawyers, especially small and solo firm practitioners, are afraid to take vacations that last more than a day or two. The reasons for this include fear that an opposing counsel will file motions or notice a motion for a hearing during the vacation; concern that things at the office will fall apart while the attorney is absent; and either inability to catch up in advance of the vacation or paralysis over the amount of work that will build up during the vacation.

You can harness technology to take a long vacation and free you from the chain running from your ankle to your desk. The key is to plan your vacation so that a brief period each day is set aside for work. Being on vacation with your family doesn’t necessarily mean that you have be with them 24/7. Before going on vacation, announce that you will set aside up to two hours a day for work. By announcing this in advance, you ensure that your family has no unrealistic expectations. You use this time to check in with the office and deal with the things that truly must be dealt with. In many cases, you won’t need more than a few minutes to take care of things, and then the extra time is a bonus for you and your family.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. If you are not already paperless, you really need to go paperless. My laptop automatically synchronizes with my server every day when I turn it off. That means when I leave the office in the evening, I’m bringing my office with me. When I travel, I’ve got every single piece of paper associated with a file (up to the date of departure) with me.
  2. While you are gone, hire someone to scan everything that comes in via fax or mail and email it to you. This person can also answer the phones. You can look at your email during the time you’ve set aside and determine if there is an emergency that needs further attention.
  3. Have a dedicated email address for work-related email only, so that you can check that email quickly without wading through mountains of garbage. Set up that email account to also forward to a Gmail or similar free, web-based account that allows you to receive email with large attachments. You can use this account if you are in a place with limited email access, or where you can’t respond from your laptop because of the infamous “550 Relay Error” message. You can email from the web-based account (set it up so that it appears to be responding from your work email account). Instruct your secretary/temp to CC: all email with attachments to the web-based account. (This protects against your main email account exceeding the size limitations. To protect against mailbox overload, make sure that your email account is set to delete the email from the ISP after it is downloaded to your laptop.)
  4. If something requires immediate attention, either devote some time to it, or get on the phone to opposing counsel or the client to ask for an extension. If opposing counsel refuses, call the judge’s law clerk, explain that you are in Timbuktu on vacation, and ask for time to respond after you return. (Or, if you really think there will be a negative response from the court, have your temp call and explain that you are in Timbuktu and hard to reach and get the extension for you.) In almost every instance, you will get the time you need. If not, then you set aside a few more hours/days to get the work out that you need to get out. You might also ask the law clerk for permission to email your response directly. Once your response is done, email it to your secretary/temp [unless you can electronically file], who will then take out a rubber stamp with your signature on it and stamp your signature and file it for you. Since you have your entire file with you, you can use Adobe Acrobat to extract the pages from documents you need for exhibits, add a footer with the exhibit number on it, and include it in your email package to the secretary/temp. This ensures that the right documents are attached and avoids any worries on that part.
  5. Get a cell phone that allows you to have access to your email at almost any time you need it. This also allows your secretary/temp to reach you if needed via email or phone.
  6. If you are really fond of overkill, have your phones forwarded to your cell phone. But the ideal thing would be to have the secretary/temp take messages and once or twice a day send you an email with a listing of the phone messages.
  7. Get a wireless network card (“air card”) for your laptop (internal or PMCIAA) and buy a subscription from one of the cellular providers that offers over-the-air access to the Internet. This will ensure you have access to the Internet more often than simply relying upon your hotel Internet or looking for a hot spot. (It will also allow you to stay at hotels that don’t have Internet or charge for it.) (In addition to being good for vacations, an air card is good for depositions and court time, too, as you can stay connected while in court or in a deposition.)
  8. Have a means to access your office computers remotely. If you don’t already have that available, you can subscribe to or similar services that allow you to access your computers via the Internet from anywhere in the world.

If you follow the above, you can take a two-week vacation without any problems. Worst case scenario, you lose a couple of hours/days of your vacation dealing with a problem. But if it doesn’t happen, you have a great vacation. The strategy many lawyers follow presently assumes that they will lose those days so they “solve” the problem by not taking a [long] vacation at all. This assumption guarantees that you can’t take a long vacation, whereas my strategy guarantees that you can take a longer vacation, but allows for the possibility that a portion of the vacation will be ruined. But even if that portion is ruined, you still have the other portion, and you still have a significant amount of quality time with your family. And if that portion is not ruined . . . a true vacation.

If you plan the vacation with everyone in your family understanding that a few hours each day will be spent on the job, the expectations are properly established going into it, and it will work out well. It’s also a good idea to plan the vacations around times that are typically slack[er]. For example, when Christmas and New Years fall on weekdays, you can often fit in a 10 day vacation while only missing 3–5 business days.

I’ve restored server hard drives over the Internet from Bermuda; taken a telephonic deposition while in Guatemala; drafted briefs, memos, and letters all over the world; checked in with my office while atop a mountain in Colorado; and responded to critical email while vacationing in the Canadian Rockies and Dominica. It can be done.

Andy Simpson is the owner of an insurance defense law firm in Christiansted, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.

© Copyright 2008, American Bar Association.