Lawyerist posted some thoughts on vacationing tips for the solo practitioner. The post was helpful, but even with client and court commitments, when you run your own shop, it’s a lot easier to get permission to put up the “Out of Office” for a few days.
As a lawyer taking a vacation takes skill and practice. You can’t just go. There are court deadlines, partner expectations, assignments you’ve backburnered for way too long and someone’s bound to sneak up and demand why wasn’t that done two months ago already? I can only speak from the time demands of a litigator. I don’t know what the transactional folks face, but I do know that it sometimes involves surprise projects that go til the wee hours of the morning. The newer you are to practice, the less control you have over your time. And when you don’t have control over your time, you can forget vacationing.
My vacation technique is the product of meticulous planning and soul-crushing anxiety. I remember the very earliest years in practice where I just wanted to sleep in the office overnight and not go home on the weekends, not because I wanted to work work work, but because all the new lawyer stresses were so cripplingly bad that my only relief from the 3am panic attacks over missed (imaginary) deadlines or this or that thing I screwed up was by physically being in the office. I got serious practice in out of office planning when I was pregnant with Baby Beez in 2010, and if I wanted maternity leave I had to create it myself, which resulted in 2 weeks off and 4 weeks working from home. (Be ye not so stupid, if you ever even consider having children, get yourself a job in an office large enough to be covered by FMLA).
My techniques are in no way perfect, but they manage to get me a few days somewhat-off each year to spend with my family:
1. Mark your vacation in your calendar MONTHS in advance. You can pick the destination later, but carve that time out as early as possible. And be vocal about it when things are going to be scheduled during that period. It’s easier to ask for an alternate date for something during the scheduling process than to ask for a date to be moved later on.
2. Let your superiors know when you will not be available. This should be in a form similar to “I’m going to be out of town the week XYZ is due, but I will get it done before I leave.” Sometimes it’s flat out not possible, but if in any way you can swing it, set your deadlines for BEFORE you leave. This will mean that the week or two before vacay will SUCK, but it’s better to work your backside off and then take a break than to return to the office from a vacation and then go through a whole fire drill of scrambling to get things done. Plus, you come across as more responsible (for good reason) if you get your work done before leaving.
3. Have your secretary scan and email your mail to you every. single. day. Read the mail she has scanned and emailed to you every. single. day. If you are able to resolve the tasks you DO know about before you leave for vacation, all you’ll have to do during vacation is damage control for any surprises that come in. Surprises usually come in through the mail. Make sure that mail gets to you.
4. Check your email at least once or twice a day. The inconvenience of an hour or so of emailing each day is far easier to bear than sorting through the overwhelming pile of communications if you let them build up when you’re gone. If I feel like I’m generally keeping up with things, I can resolve most of the anxiety of the possibility of returning to a total cluster in my office at vacation’s end.
5. Get a back up. This one’s not easy, but it’s such a stress relief if you can swing it. This year has been my first year that I have actually had someone junior than me who I can ask to generally keep an eye on things for me (and look up a couple research issues that unexpectedly popped up). Sure, your secretary will keep an eye on things, but also having another associate available to keep an eye on things (and maybe even present motions, shuttle boxes, etc. that there’s no way you can reschedule) is so unbelievably helpful. And remember to repay that favor.
6. Give up the bitterness. In most previous years, in the days leading up to vacation, I got so frustrated with the mountain of work to resolve before leaving that taking vacation seemed to cause more stress than it resolved, and I very seriously considered just calling it off. This year I tried a different attitude. I accepted that the last few days before vacation would be mad mad mad, but if I worked hard then, I could do less work during vacation. And I accepted that I’ve picked a profession where a week entirely free of work doesn’t exist. I would have to do some work during vacation. It’s an inevitability. And the more anger I harbored over that, the less satisfied I would be by my vacation. I breathed deep and accepted that vacation would involve some work. That’s how it is. And I felt a lot better over it.
What are your techniques for carving out some vacation time?