July 06, 2015 Asked and Answered

How can lawyers maximize relaxation while on vacation? (podcast with transcript)

By Stephanie Francis Ward

We’d all love to be able to unplug completely while we’re on vacation, but for many lawyers, it’s not that simple. Meeting your duty to your clients might mean that you can’t just leave your phone at home. But how can you keep distractions to a minimum and make the most out of your time off? The ABA Journal’s Stephanie Francis Ward gleans some tips and tricks from Jones Day partner Lawrence D. Rosenberg.

Podcast Transcript

Stephanie Francis Ward: You need a vacation, but you also need to keep clients happy. Is it possible to do both? Yes, says Lawrence Rosenberg, a litigation partner with Jones Day’s D.C. office. I’m Stephanie Francis Ward, and on today’s Asked and Answered, Larry and I will be discussing how he’s been able to travel for leisure and be available when the office needs him. Welcome to the show, Larry.

Lawrence Rosenberg: Thanks, it’s great to be here.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Now, you were writing a book—I believe it’s called A Trial Lawyer’s Guide to Success and Happiness, right?

Lawrence Rosenberg: Right, with two colleagues, one of whom is my wife, who’s a doctor.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Nice. Tell me how personal vacations figure in with A Trial Lawyer’s Guide to Success and Happiness.

Lawrence Rosenberg: Well, we think they’re very important, and we have various strategies that we’re going to talk about today, and other strategies that we’re setting forth in the book for taking vacations in a way that allows you to personally recharge, spend time with family and friends, but also be available for work issues that arise.

Stephanie Francis Ward: OK. And over the years you’ve had in practice, what have you learned about balancing your work responsibilities and client service with taking vacations, so you can charge and come back to work refreshed?

Lawrence Rosenberg: One key concept is the notion of protected time, and I think this applies not only on vacations. I try to apply this in my daily life—carving out certain periods of protected time to spend time with family or friends, do things that are non-work related.

But on vacations specifically, I think one way to do it that’s very effective is to have perhaps one or two days during your vacation that you try to stay focused as much as possible on just the vacation.

You may still need to check your email or if an emergency comes up, deal with it, but try to take, again, one or two days—if say you’re taking a week vacation—where you try to avoid work as much as possible. But then on the other days, create windows of time when you can devote some time to work issues.

We recommend either doing that early in the morning before you’re doing your daily activities, or perhaps late in the evening after the rest of the family has gone to sleep or is doing something else, and then also having some time in the middle of the day, perhaps while you’re at lunch, to check emails and if necessary, to make a short phone call.

We found that if you can set aside perhaps an hour or even two in a day while you’re on vacation, that you set aside and protect for work-related issues, you can then spend the rest of the day not worrying so much about work, really enjoying yourself, and getting away from the office.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Do you have advice—and maybe during that hour in the morning where you were going through things, there was some kind of fire or annoying thing that happened at the office—do you have thoughts on how you can enjoy the rest of your day without worrying about that email from a disgruntled client or something that messed up? What are your thoughts on that?

Lawrence Rosenberg: Well, I think there are several things you can do. First of all is try to get back to the client right away. So, if the client sent you something early in the morning, try to get back to the client early in the morning. And if you have to set up a call, set it up perhaps over lunch or again at the end of the day, or if there is a window between being on the beach and going to dinner, or playing golf, or doing whatever it is you do, try to do that in a window when you have some time.

Don’t interrupt your daily activities unless you absolutely need to. So, I think that’s one thing.

The second thing is to have colleagues who are able to deal with the issue. If it’s not an absolute firestorm in a case, hopefully we’ll have some other colleagues working on a case and perhaps they can deal with it.

Or perhaps, you can call the client or email the client that says, “I’m on vacation. My colleague will get back to you immediately, and if you need to talk more about it, why don’t we try to talk over lunch or at 6:00,” or something like that. But really try to deal with the client as quickly as possible, and then if there’s more that needs to be done, try to get colleagues to take care of that.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Also, do you have advice—say that if you’re married or have a significant other and your spouse maybe is resentful that you’re taking time—these windows—out of your trip to handle work things—and perhaps this is more of a couple’s issue, just to talk to each other and be kind and patient with each other—but what’s your advice on that? That there’s resentment from your romantic interest or the family about you stepping away from the vacation maybe three hours a day to check in?

Lawrence Rosenberg: I think that’s an interesting issue. I’ve been very fortunate because my spouse works very hard and understands this, and her father was a partner at a big law firm. He was a litigator, and so she understands the time demands. But I do think open communication is the most important thing, and really explaining to your spouse, “Look, here are the times when I’m planning on dealing with work stuff,” and I really try to schedule it around my wife’s schedule.

So, my wife is—not shockingly as a doctor—is a morning person, gets up very early, as do our kids. And so I, if I can, try to protect time late in the evening after they’re all asleep. And quite frankly, my wife doesn’t really care what I’m doing with regard to work when she’s asleep, so—

Stephanie Francis Ward: Right, doesn’t bother her. Right.

Lawrence Rosenberg: Right, it doesn’t bother her. And then I do say, look, if we’re having lunch in a 12:30 to 2:00 window, I may need to take a half hour of that to go do work stuff. And so we’ll either have lunch and then I’ll run off somewhere that’s quiet and make some calls or answer emails, or do it in the reverse and do it right before we have our lunch.

So, once you have, I think, communication and protected time that tries not to interfere with what your spouse or children really want to do, and consistency—knowing that there’s a certain time each day that you may be handling work stuff—I think is about as good as you can do. And otherwise, bribery works—nice gifts, things like that.

Stephanie Francis Ward: OK. Over the years of balancing work with trips, have you found certain locations that are pretty easy to go and do work in—maybe some places that are better than others? What are some of the places you found where you can actually go and do work with not too many problems?

Lawrence Rosenberg: I have to say the most important thing for me is a place that has good cell coverage and Wi-Fi. And I’m not saying that every place you go on your trip has to have it, but your hotel ideally does. And it really becomes stressful if you’re away and things are happening and there’s no Wi-Fi, or the Wi-Fi tends to be interrupted and so your link to your firm network gets interrupted every few minutes.

As far as physical location, I think it’s just where you and your family like to be the most. My kids love several locations that we go. They, like many kids, love Disney World and Disneyland, and it’s interesting that between the two of them—and I don’t want to denigrate Disney World—but the Disneyland hotels, in my experience, have better Wi-Fi than the Disney World hotels that we’ve stayed in. And so perhaps that’s a little less stressful, although Disney gives free Wi-Fi I believe to people that stay on property.

My wife I think likes that too, but she sort of prefers maybe a relaxing vacation somewhere nice, like a Caribbean island or Hawaii, something like that. And those work as well. The other thing that can help is if your firm has offices in locations that you visit; that’s always a very good backstop. I always feel thoroughly protected if I’m going somewhere where there’s a Jones Day office, and that includes internationally.

For example, I was in Paris with my wife a few years ago for a sort of a long weekend, and something did blow up and I actually—we had a wonderful dinner and I dropped my wife off at the hotel and went into our office that was five blocks away. I made several calls because of the time change, and pretty much put out the fire without any real serious stress. So that also is something that helps, if you’re in that situation.

Stephanie Francis Ward: When you’re going back and forth between doing work and enjoying your vacation, how do you mentally prepare to shut off the work portion for a bit, truly relax, and get ready to go out and have fun and relax? How do you—because sometimes it is hard to sort of shut down that mental aspect when you’ve been involved with work?

Lawrence Rosenberg: Yeah. I don’t completely shut it down, and I think that for me, I actually try to compartmentalize—and that’s something we talk about in our book—even on a daily basis. I know it’s hard for people to do, but it’s really hard to spend quality time with your family if you’re completely stressed out about something that’s going on at work, or very worried about the court appearance that’s coming up in a few days, and I think it’s helpful to do that.

For vacations, what I try to do is get everything in as good shape as I can before I go, but not be crazy obsessive about it. I don’t—I try not to stay at the office until 3:00 in the morning every night for three or four days before a trip. I have sometimes done that the night before a trip, but I try to avoid that. But really try to get things in as good shape as possible.

If there are briefs or other filings that are due while I’m on vacation, really try to get them finalized if at all possible before I leave; make sure that if there’s important client calls or important client input into filings or other matters, try to again do that before I’ve left for vacation; and really plan ahead enough so that I’m not crazily trying to send out, say, 50 emails the night before I leave, but do as much as I can.

And if there’s something that I just can’t get to, rather than staying up all night the night before, I may leave it to, say, the second day in the vacation, and realize I have to get up at 6:30 in the morning that day to finish editing some memorandum that I want to send to the client. But rather than getting too stressed about it beforehand, I really—I’ll take care of it and if I need to do a little bit of work on the vacation, that I find is sometimes better than trying to go crazy beforehand.

But I think planning ahead; doing as much as you can before you leave; and then looking forward to the vacation. One thing I do—and I know this works very differently for different folks—is I actually plan most of the vacations myself. I mean, my wife and I discuss it a lot, but I make the plane reservations; I make the hotel reservations; I make the tour reservations; and I enjoy doing that.

I really do because it makes me look forward to it, I know what’s going on on the trip, and that also helps me sort of get in the mood because I’ve been planning it for sometimes weeks or months beforehand.

Stephanie Francis Ward: That sounds like a wonderful idea, because I’m guessing with the nature of your professions, it might be a little easier for your wife to leave on vacation than for you. And if you do the planning, you have ownership of it.

Lawrence Rosenberg: Right. And I know people—

Stephanie Francis Ward: And you can’t complain because it’s your idea.

Lawrence Rosenberg: Right, and I do think it’s important. I have to say, I have colleagues both at the firm and otherwise where they sort of say, “My wife plans everything,” and sometimes they don’t—I don’t know that they enjoy the vacations as much, because they’re not as personally invested in it. And it’s not that my wife and my kids don’t have a say; I mean, we talk about what we’re going to do well in advance and make sure that everybody’s happy with what we’re going.

But I do feel that personally planning it, and making a lot of the reservations really increases my personal investment in it, and ultimately my enjoyment of the vacation while I’m on it.

Stephanie Francis Ward: That sounds like a really good idea. As a large firm partner—and obviously every firm is different, and perhaps every practice area at a firm is different—what’s your sense on knowing what’s an acceptable amount of vacations as a partner to take a year? I think some people worry that, well, they don’t want to be seen as taking too much vacations because it might appear that they’re not devoted to the firm. What are your thoughts and advice on that?

Lawrence Rosenberg: I think there are several factors to consider. One of course is firm culture, and another is perhaps how many hours you’re working. I tend to bill a lot of hours, and so I don’t really worry that I’m out at certain times or not. In fact, I suffer from the problem that some of my partners say I bill too many hours, and so when I’m out on vacation they actually are happy about that. But I think it’s a balance.

I think most law firms are fine with partners taking a reasonable amount of vacation. I think most firms tend to have four weeks vacation as their standard policy—some maybe have a little more, some may have a little less—and I think most firms really encourage their partners to take all or most of that. And again, if you’re doing what I’ve suggested, you’re not billing zero on those vacations; you may be billing an hour or two or even three some of those days. So, it’s not as if you’re taking an extended period of time with absolutely no billings.

I really think it’s individual. The thing I do—I don’t take too many weeklong vacations. I tend to take one or two of those a year, and then I often take shorter trips that are long weekends, and I will often couple them with work conferences or other things where I need to be out of the office. Or I may have an oral argument somewhere and couple that with a three- or four-day long weekend with my family or my wife, depending on the circumstances.

I find that the somewhat-shorter trips are a lot easier because if you’re out of the office for two business days that often creates a lot less difficulty than if you’re out for an entire week. The other thing I do is I typically try to couple my longer trips with holidays. So, we tend to go away July 4th week every year—that’s a very popular time for people to be taking vacations, and so it’s a week when nobody really misses you that much.

And similarly, if you can do it, the week between Christmas and New Year’s tends to be a popular time and not a lot gets done. Now that week, we’ve only sometimes been able to take vacations, because my wife often works in the hospital on Christmas. But those tend to be times that you can get away more easily. It also of course depends on kids’ school schedules and other things.

But I think if you have a policy of taking four weeks or so vacation at your firm, you really can take most or all of that time. And I don’t think, at most firms, you’d get too much pushback or be looked at as someone who isn’t committed to the firm.

Stephanie Francis Ward: OK. Do you have tips for lawyers who have less experience than you, who would like a career like yours? Do you have any real quick tips for them about navigating taking vacations with their work?

Lawrence Rosenberg: I think one of the most important things is just communication. So, if you’re trying to use some of the strategies I’ve suggested, communication—with your spouse, with your children, with friends if you’re going on vacation with friends—I think it’s important. And similarly, communication with your colleagues. So if you are a more senior lawyer at a law firm, you want to talk to your junior colleagues.

Make sure they know where you’re going, when you’re going, what your schedule is, if you’re planning on carving out a certain period of time—particularly if there are time changes involved. If you’re going to Europe, if you’re going to Asia, if you’re going to Hawaii, things like that, let everyone know what time zone you’re in. And perhaps, even set up a regular call schedule.

If there’s a very important, very active case that there’s stuff happening on a daily basis and you feel like you need to be plugged in, set up a 10 minute call every morning at 8:00 a.m. Eastern, or 10:00 a.m. Eastern, or whatever works with your time change, so that you can stay on top of that. And I find that if there is something very active, having a regular call that could be five minutes long also helps me relax, because I’m not worried that I’m missing something or that something critical is happening during the day when I’m less tuned in to what’s going on.

So, I think communication is the key, letting people know where you are—certainly letting your assistant or secretary or close colleagues with whom you work with know where you are and how to get a hold of you, and what your rough schedule is going to be.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Do you have any quick tips, specifically for staff and instructing them before you leave so they can help you have as relaxing vacation as possible?

Lawrence Rosenberg: Yeah. What I sort of say—and this both to staff and junior colleagues—is I try to let them know where I’m going to be, what the schedule is, and I sort of say, “Look. If there’s something—if somebody calls and wants to talk to me, say, ‘He’s on vacation this week, but he’s available to talk if it’s important. What’s the level of urgency?’” So my secretary knows to ask, “Look, is this urgent? Is this something that can wait until he gets back? Is this something …?” and then sort of assess.

If it’s relatively urgent, she’ll say, “OK, do you want me to connect you to his cell phone?” And more often than not, even clients will say, “Oh no, that’s not necessary. I’ll just send an email.”

But if there is something really urgent, I’d rather have the client connected to my cellphone than feel like I’m not being responsive. So I say, “Look, if the client says—or somebody says, ‘I really need to talk to him now,’ put him through.”

Similarly, with junior colleagues, I say, “Look, if it’s really important, just call me. If it’s something that can wait until a few hours later, send me an email. And if it’s something that can wait until I return, send an email and say, ‘This is not urgent, but …’ and explain what’s going on.”

So I try to prioritize things basically into three levels, right? Things that can wait until I get back; things that have to be dealt with but not this minute; and things that are really urgent that have to be dealt with now. And I think both my secretary and the colleagues with whom I work, after a little bit of time, sort of have a pretty good sense as to what category things fall into.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Can you tell me briefly about maybe the most relaxing vacation you had, and why it worked for you?

Lawrence Rosenberg: I think that I would put that into two different categories because I think I’ve had extremely relaxing vacations where it’s just been me and my wife, and then there have been family vacations.

And I think the most relaxing vacations with me and my wife tend to be trips where we aren’t doing tons of stuff every day. Whether we do a couple hour tour and then relax for a while, or play tennis or something like that, and relax, and try to have some activity during the day but not a 12-hour program day, and where I really make an effort to compartmentalize the time that I’m devoting to work stuff. And so I try to really do that late at night when I’m just with my wife, and not do too much during the day.

And with the family, I have to say I think for me—and my wife says this as well—our Disney vacations tend to be among the most relaxing. And it’s hard to explain why, but because we are doing stuff sort of opposite of the trip just with my wife, or we’re doing stuff all day—even when work stuff comes up, I’m not that worried about it or distracted about it because I’m worried about getting to the next ride and doing other things that we already have preplanned.

So, it’s a little contradictory to say, but the vacations when I sort of have a pretty relaxed period with just my wife that’s very non-time-intensive, but also the more time-intensive vacations with my kids tend to relax me, as well. And so I think that may go to show either that I am entirely crazy—which is possible—or that there can be different levels of activity in a vacation that can be equally relaxing depending on what you’re doing.

Stephanie Francis Ward: All right. And that’s all the questions that I have for you. Did you want to add anything else?

Lawrence Rosenberg: The only thing I would add is we really do feel it’s important—my colleagues and I who are writing the book—that people figure out ways to relax, to allow stress to be dissipated, and vacations is a very good way to do it. Travel is interesting; you can see new things, you can experience things you don’t experience in a daily basis, and we really feel that it’s important.

And I can certainly say that earlier in my career, we took fewer vacations—part of that was because of financial issues, part of that is because as a young lawyer at a big firm, you have much less control over your schedule than as a more senior lawyer. But we’ve taken more vacations in recent years, and I think have really enjoyed that, and it really does help with stress levels, with recharging, with being as energetic and eager as possible when you do get back to the office.

Stephanie Francis Ward: All right. Thank you so much for joining me today. I appreciate it. It was a great conversation.

Lawrence Rosenberg: Thank you so much, Stephanie. I really enjoyed it.

Stephanie Francis Ward: I’m Stephanie Francis Ward, and you have been listening to the ABA Journal’s Asked and Answered. Thanks for joining us.

[End of transcript]

Updated on July 9 to add transcript.

In This Podcast:

Stephanie Francis Ward
Lawrence Rosenberg is a litigation partner for Jones Day in Washington, D.C. He has tried cases to verdict and argued appeals throughout the country, and he has been lead counsel in numerous matters before the U.S. Supreme Court. Larry’s pro bono practice focuses on immigration, civil rights and criminal matters. He is the author of a forthcoming book, The Trial Lawyer’s Guide to Success and Happiness.