Vacation Vexation: Make Your Getaway an Ethical One

Victoria Walker

Vacation plays an integral role in the young lawyer’s pursuit of balance. Getting away is not easy and sometimes feels impossible. While clients, partners, and bar activities may spring to mind when contemplating a getaway, there is one additional consideration to be weighed—ethics. There are ethical implications to taking time off, but there are also a number of positive by-products that result from fulfilling these duties. Allow ethics to guide you and you will satisfy your clients while strengthening your reputation for reliability.

To identify some effective practices for juggling work, vacation, and ethics, I enlisted the advice of Ms. Rudene Mercer Haynes—a partner in the Richmond office of Hunton & Williams LLP. Below, Haynes describes how she gets away and minimizes the impact of her absence.

Question: Regarding Model Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3 (diligence) and 1.4 (communication), how do you prepare your clients and colleagues for your absence?

Answer: You have to plan. I coordinate months in advance with the partner with whom I lead my practice area so that we’re not out at the same time. We do this to minimize the amount of time we spend working while away. I know I won’t get to unplug completely while on vacation, but I don’t want to be blindsided by something that requires my level of expertise when I’m not immediately available.

I go into vacation knowing that it’s not going to be 100 percent relaxation. One year I was in North Carolina for spring break, and I had several transactions closing around that time. For the first three days of break, I worked three to four hours per day. I know others who canceled vacations because things were too busy at work, or worked all day and night at some exotic resort. I haven’t had that experience, but it’s because of how I prepare—I am never the only one on a transaction.

Some may frown upon this practice, but I have my work phone transferred to my cell phone so that I am always accessible. When I am on vacation, I screen calls through voicemail. I address matters that require my attention and forward others to my colleagues. I check email periodically because I don’t want something falling through the cracks, and I also tell clients when I have time off. They appreciate the notice and try to respect my vacation time.

Q: We have an ethical obligation to protect our clients’ work from unauthorized disclosure (Rule 1.6(c)). When you work on vacation, what measures do you take to protect your work?

A: I can access our secure VPN from my iPad Pro, which is how I do most of my work. I try to take calls in a private place, but if I’m in public, I’ll use code names and make sure not to discuss proprietary information. Technology makes it easy to work from anywhere and do so securely.

Q: Do you have any tips for young lawyers seeking to balance work with vacation?

A: If you’re away, acknowledge your emails and calls and say you’ll respond by a certain time. Don’t feel like you have to hide the fact that you have a life outside of work. Be responsive and authentic.

Build a rapport with your partners, associates, and clients. If you have a track record of always being responsive or accessible, people develop more confidence and faith in you. You’ve earned their trust and can bank on that when you’re going to be away.


Victoria Walker

Victoria Walker is an associate counsel at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals in Washington, DC.