With summertime approaching quickly, we thought it might be a good time for tips to help you take some well-deserved time off. For solo lawyers and those in a small firm, taking time off away from the office without being tethered to your smartphone or computer may seem impossible. While we don’t recommend you leave home without a laptop or smartphone, we do have tips to help you minimize the time you spend with them.
Tip 1: An Ounce of Preparation Is Worth a Pound of Cure
If you have any hope of relaxing and enjoying your time away from the office, you need to prepare your clients and co-workers for your absence. For active matters, you should send clients a personal note in advance, whether by letter or e-mail, alerting them to your vacation schedule. You may want to tell them in the notice that you will be back a day or two later than you actually plan to return, giving yourself some time to catch up before the calls start flooding back.
You should also prepare and train your staff for your absence. You can call it luck or karma, but if anything in your office can possibly break down or go wrong, it will do so while you are away. Think about some of the snafus you have experienced in the past, and make a list of steps to take, who to call, and when. For example:
- Steps to take if any of the computers won’t start in the morning, when to call in help, and who to call.
- What to do if the Internet connection goes out, including where the router and cable modem were, what to look for, how to reset them, and when to call in the cable company for help.
- What to do if the firm website appears to be down; how to be certain (i.e., that it is really the website that is down and not the office Internet connection), and who to call to troubleshoot and fix the problem.
- When to call the person responsible for building maintenance in the office building, and what phone number to call.
Assign the responsibility of handling problems to one employee, but let others know that if that employee is unavailable then they can and should step in to handle the problems that require immediate attention.
Make sure you file a notice of unavailability for all your matters. This provides notice to opposing counsel and to the court. This should help avoid things being scheduled during the time you are unavailable. Even if you are a solo practitioner, coordinate with another attorney in case an emergency arises.
Tip 2: Look for the Slower Times of the Year and Try to Schedule During That Time
If you have been practicing for a while, you may have noticed some weeks or months of the year are slower than others. Try to schedule your time off then. If you haven’t been practicing for long, try to schedule shorter three- or four-day trips around major holidays. This will be easier to coordinate then a three-week stint away from the office.
Tip 3: Schedule a Regular Check-In/Available Time for Staff
All your preparation will be for naught if you spend hours every day answering e-mails or returning phone calls. Some communication is necessary, but identify a one- or two-hour block of time during work hours when staff can reach you to address any emergencies, inquiries, etc. Hopefully, you can schedule this at a time that won’t interrupt the fun you have planned. This way, everyone knows to expect you to work during this time. Once that window passes, put the technology away and enjoy the time with family and friends.
Tip 4: If at All Possible, Do Not Forward Your Business Line Calls to Your Cell Phone
Yes, it is easy to do, but you will have a much harder time relaxing with the steady stream of work calls coming in. If you have office staff, have them collect the calls and report to you the important ones. If you do not have staff in your office, you can try using a digital service provider such as RingCentral or Ruby Receptionists.
Tip 5: Make Sure Your Travel Technology Is Ready Before You Leave
Some of our travel tech only gets used when we travel (international mobile hot spots, external battery chargers, cables, etc.). As such, it is a good idea to examine their condition and replace items ahead of time if necessary. Some good tools to have (and make sure are functioning) include:
- smartphone (and charger)
- laptop and/or tablet
- mobile hot spot
- portable scanner (especially if you have a document-intensive practice and may need to sign documents while you are away)
- cloud database (for document management or whole practice management if possible)
Sometimes planning and preparing for a vacation can seem like a lot of . . . well, work. Once you get a process in place, though, you will find it to be an easy and enjoyable experience. The boost that a vacation gives to your mental health and productivity, not to mention the benefit of reconnecting with friends and family, will far outweigh the effort of planning.