I’ve always loved travel and vacations. Although it has been a long time since I last attended school on a full-time basis, I cannot forget the wonderful feeling of getting out of town during a school break. With little to no real obligations or concerns, I felt free. How things change.
This year, I’ve been on two vacations which were each about one week long. As is customary for me, I was very busy the week or so before departing for both trips and even busier for more than a week upon my return.
However, my experiences on the two trips, as they relate to work, were very different. During one trip some emergency issues arose that required my attention and time, resulting in some tense moments. Conversely, my second trip went fairly smoothly.
After reflecting upon my workloads and work-related stress levels on the two different trips, and desiring to increase the chances of future worry-free trips, I started thinking about how to most effectively manage work when taking vacations.
In addition to considering the history of my travels, I decided to poll my friends and legal colleagues for their opinions on the price of a vacation for a lawyer.
Since my research on this topic is mostly anecdotal, I realize that my findings may not be applicable to everyone.
I understand that taking a vacation can be challenging in many professions and jobs. If you are away from your work or home, you are not taking care of your day-to-day business, tasks or chores.
Although vacations are meant to be an outlet to get away from these stresses of life, ironically, vacations often create additional elements of pressure. While most people can relate to this issue, I believe lawyers have many distinctive difficulties when it comes to vacations.
Being on vacation almost always means you are out of your office. Generally this is the goal of a vacation – to get away from work. But for lawyers, being away from the office can be a blessing and a curse.
As often as we dream about escaping, we have nightmares about how everything may fall apart unless we are there to oversee all the details. The anxiety can be caused by many reasons: The fear that we will lose the opportunity to sign up new clients, or others will claim ownership of a new client. Other stressors are that we may be unavailable when an existing client has an immediate need or requires our particular expertise.
Some lawyers complain that tasks don’t really get done when they are out of the office; they are simply pushed down the road and placed on hold (and on your desk) until you return.
Though it comes with a price, taking a vacation and knowing how to handle it is a necessity for lawyers. I will share my processes and tips for how to handle my work before, during and after a vacation.
Before the vacation
The week or two leading up to a vacation is extremely busy. I try to get as much work done as I possibly can to make up for the time I will be gone. This allows me to leave with the knowledge that my pile of work can wait for my return. For many of us, condensing a lot of work into this short period of time also mitigates the loss of billable hours while gone.
During this stage, I’m very mindful of my time and schedule. I attempt to leave blocks of time open so I can devote time to substantive projects and bring them to completion.
My schedule during my vacation must also be planned carefully. Since mine changes frequently, I’m reviewing it daily during this pre-trip stage. Most of my trips are planned months in advance. My professional calendar is generally booked fairly solid for 30 to 45 days out and afterward there is more unscheduled time.
As a result, whenever I’m thinking of or planning a trip, I try to narrow down the dates of travel as soon as possible. This allows me to block off those dates and avoid scheduling things that interfere with the vacation.
Many of my cases have another attorney working on the file in addition to me. This is helpful as there is instant backup with a person who has knowledge of the case and client.
If there is no one working on a file with me, I arrange to have an attorney on-call, and I make sure this attorney is aware of the basics as well as any potential pitfalls.
I attempt to anticipate problems that may arise, and I meet with my support staff to review protocols for handling them. I also go over the process of handling potential new client inquiries.
We talk about where I will be, what I’ll be doing on the trip, differences in time zones, the availability of internet service, when I’ll be checking e-mails, when they should be checking my e-mails and if and when it is appropriate to contact me.
During the vacation
Although vacations are meant to unplug and unwind, this can be challenging. Depending on the nature and purpose of my getaway, I decide in advance the amount of time, or lack thereof, that I aspire to devote to work.
This includes whether I’ll call into the office, read e-mails, respond to e-mails, call clients or potential clients and bring my laptop for substantive work such as preparing or reviewing agreements and pleadings.
As a general rule -and other lawyers I have spoken to agree – checking e-mail on a trip can be beneficial. Even when on vacation, it is hard to fully get away, as I often think about what is going on at work.
However, once I check my e-mail and see everything is fine, I am able to more completely relax for a period of time. My system for checking e-mails and working depends on the nature and length of a trip.
When feasible, I check e-mail twice a day at specified times, usually once in the morning and once in the afternoon or evening. I leave responding to e-mails and calls – as well as the balance of running my practice – to my team. If I am on a longer trip, I typically will set aside some time to make phone calls and even do other work; it is part of the cost of taking an extended trip.
After the vacation
Similar to before a vacation, the week or two upon returning from a trip are especially busy catching up. I try to return on a Saturday rather than a Sunday.
This allows me to go into the office on Sunday to go through mail and e-mails and be ready to gear into the week.
Since my office schedules calls and meetings for when I’m back in the office, the week is always full. In order to get it all in, I end up working later than usual.
I have been on many vacations where I can completely escape work and others where I must stay more connected. It all depends on my planning, staff and luck.
Though lawyers and others pay the price of heightened stress before and after a vacation, taking the time for a trip is well worth it.
It is important to recharge and stay connected with your personal life. I am always striving to be able to take more and longer vacations so that I can spend time with the important people in my life.