Find Your Own Approach to Vacation Time

Rosezetta E. Upshaw

Many highly successful attorneys proudly boast that they have not taken a vacation in at least five years. Going five years without a vacation was not an option for some attorneys. Thankfully, success and vacations are not mutually exclusive for attorneys. In fact, the most successful attorneys find their own approach to vacation—an approach that allows them to thrive and excel professionally. You can do the same. Regardless of your caseload or the number of billable hours you face, thoughtful consideration of your personal values, professional fears, and scheduling preferences will help you discover the best way to use your vacation time.

Personal Values

Taking vacation time is important for a variety of reasons: you can relax mentally and physically, explore and expand your horizons, focus on loved ones, and have fun. All of these things can increase your professional productivity. The key is to discover which elements of vacation you personally value most. Are you a thrill-seeker or a spa person? Do you really want to go camping with your friends for a week or would you rather stay at home in your pajamas and play videogames or read novels for a few days? Your valuation may be affected by the elements that are regularly missing from your life. For example, I live and work in Los Angeles. I can usually arrange beach time, nightlife, and exploration into my weekends so most of my vacations include relaxing with my family in other cities and states. I often fly home to Vallejo on long weekends to sit and reminisce with my dad, my siblings, and my high school friends. I take these short trips regularly to recharge my batteries. If I still lived in my quiet hometown and saw my family regularly, I would probably place a higher value on fun and excitement and therefore vacation differently. When you understand your personal values, you can purposefully use your vacation time in a way that maximizes your personal happiness and satisfaction, thereby giving you the greatest returns on your time off.

Professional Fears

Often new lawyers fail to even consider using their vacation time because of their professional fears. These fears are usually based on a misconception that going on vacation means doing less work. In reality, prior to your vacation you will typically do more work in a shorter period of time. If you allow professional fears to linger, they can hinder your ability to achieve a healthy work-life balance and mute any enjoyment you experience during your days off. If you address the fears directly, you can strategize and plan them away and fully enjoy your vacation.

Common Professional Fears

  • I am afraid of letting my team down and not pulling my weight.
  • I am afraid that I will miss out on an important client that will bolster my solo practice.
  • I am afraid that my boss will think I prioritize fun over work.
  • I am afraid that there will be an emergency situation that only I can handle.
  • I am afraid of losing face time.
  • I am afraid I will be passed up for a promotion or partnership.

Vacation Strategies and Solutions

  • Plan ahead so that before you leave you can finish the work you would otherwise be missing and get ahead on the work you will be handling upon your return.
  • If someone will be covering for you, take the time to prepare them and provide written instructions. Review the work with that person when you return.
  • Keep your cell phone with you.
  • Keep track of peak season in your practice and schedule your vacations during slower seasons.
  • Give as much written notice as possible and provide reminders as your vacation approaches.
  • Avoid scheduling trials, hearings, assignments, or meetings on days you plan to be away.
  • Buy refundable tickets for airfare and activities in case of emergency cancellations.
  • Be forward about the copious amounts of preparation and organizing you are doing to schedule your vacation. “I can’t make it to happy hour; I have to pull all-nighters for the next three weeks before my vacation.”
  • Proudly express your values and share what makes you unique. Taking a vacation should not be a secret operation. In fact, the more hush-hush you are about your time off, the greater the possibility of negative perceptions. Do not be shy about the fact that you love to snowboard or that you are taking your first trip to Africa. The more you share how important the vacation is to you, the more likely others will approve. Share the pictures of your grandparents from your biennial family reunion. These things make you interesting and likeable.

When in doubt about how best to address your professional fears, ask someone who has worked at your office for several years. Seasoned secretaries can often provide insightful guidance through your office’s vacation request process.

Scheduling Preferences

Vacations are not one-size-fits-all. You can arrange to take two weeks at once or two days at a time. Think about your values and the vacation strategies available to you and create the schedule that you desire. I recently learned of a big firm partner who regularly billed ten- to fifteen-hour days while an associate so that he could take the entire month of December off each year. Not only did his hard work earn him an annual four-week vacation, but it also put him on the fast track to partnership. If billing fifteen-hour days is not your cup of tea, here are other scheduling options to consider:

  • Take advantage of three-day weekends quarterly with weekend getaways.
  • Enjoy a different local luxury hotel a few nights each month.
  • Schedule a two-week vacation twelve–eighteen months in advance.
  • Take one or two extra days off during three-day weekends.
  • Work overtime four days per week and work a half day once per week.
  • Arrange staycations and take advantage of the tourist attractions in your own town.

The most important thing is that you take some time off. Being an attorney is highly stressful and new lawyers are under extra pressure to perform. Vacations rejuvenate the mind, relieve stress, and improve job performance even if you only take off one day at a time. Yes, you are busy and possibly burdened by billable hours, but you can find a vacation schedule that suits your needs. You only live once, and the alternative to vacationing is missing out on important experiences, living with regrets, or worse, incurring health issues. The better you treat yourself, the more you can contribute to the legal profession. With careful planning, you can have your success and vacation too.


Rosezetta E. Upshaw

Rosezetta E. Upshaw is an attorney with Los Angeles Dependency Lawyers, Inc. in Monterey Park, California.