In last week’s column, I focused on vacation planning for those in Biglaw looking to take some time off with their families. Weekends do not count as vacations. If the best lasting memories you can create for your children involve a stop at the bagel store for an ET with olive cream cheese on a random Sunday morning before you head into the office, you need to take a real family vacation.
But even those without families need and deserve time to recharge. As with anything in Biglaw, you just need to be smart about it. First off, you need to be a bit more assertive about your right and need for some time off. There is a perception in Biglaw that singles or childless couples have plenty of fun on the weekends, and as such do not need vacation time as much as families. That is bunk, but perceptions matter….
Older partners in particular get a little squeamish when thinking about their associates on vacation. For some reason, they presume that associates treat their vacation time as spring break (but with spending money), when in reality it takes the average associate a day or two to adjust to actual sunlight exposure. So you may need to be more assertive about claiming vacation time, but you can also benefit from the increased flexibility you have on where and when to take some time off in the first place. It is much easier to travel when you are not tied down to school schedules. So learn the ebbs and flows of your practice area and take advantage.
As I wrote last week, even when traveling solo or as a couple, you want to avoid long travel times and be somewhat available. For example, you can afford to rent a mi-fi device so that you can check your emails or take an emergency call. So do it, especially if you are going somewhere without wifi access.
Separately, I would modify my advice from last week in regards to splurging on luxury hotels and the like. If you are single or treating your spouse/partner, don’t skimp. You work hard, and don’t need to cross a busy highway to get to the beach so as to save a few hundred a night on a hotel room. Get that beachfront room straightaway. There will be a time a few months post-vacation when you will need to close your eyes and remember the good feeling of enjoying your morning coffee while watching the surf roll in. Probably when dealing with opposing counsel.
In Biglaw there are those who need to ask for vacation, and those who don’t. Associates should ask, especially for anything longer than a long weekend. Long weekends can be had without asking — but they require some planning. A favorite trick on that front is to “extend” a late-week work trip for a few days. Wrapping up a deposition late Thursday afternoon? Lucky enough that the deposition is in your firm’s San Diego office, and not in a Comfort Inn off some interstate highway in Indiana? Easy mini-vacation. Let everyone who needs to know that you plan on wrapping up some post-deposition things in the office on Friday morning, and that you can be reached there. Spend the morning in the office, and disappear around lunchtime. Fly home Sunday night, and show up Monday morning in your home office. Keep the Gaslamp war stories to yourself. This works best for singles, or those able to have their partner fly out to meet them in a fun city.
A variation of the above involves not flying directly home, but routing your work-trip return leg through a fun place to spend the weekend. Doing this once or twice a year can help take the sting out of work travel, and provide a heartening boost in advance of the dreaded “catch-up week” when you get back to the office after being out for a few days the week before. Play this game right, and even as an associate you may be able to also tack on a “real” one-week vacation somewhere during one of the usual vacation times of year. (Associate vacations of more than one week are disfavored. Everyone will assume you are getting ready to quit. The only recognized exceptions are honeymoons and births.)
On a separate note, I am still waiting for a gunner associate to return from vacation with a stack of articles (for publication by their partner of course) on various client-attracting legal topics. What an opportunity to make a good impression — wasted too often. You don’t need to watch the Dark Knight Rises for the third time on your flight. Type up an article instead. Enjoy the positive returns later.
In contrast to associates, nearly all partners do not need to ask for vacation. It is one of the only real shared perks of acquiring that status. Even the lowliest of service partners is adjudged to have the ability to assess their workload and take vacation when most appropriate. For most partners, that time seems to be late August and around the holidays. Rainmakers tend to be either on a perma-vacation or irredeemable workaholics. And they are the only ones who get to brag about the three-week Polynesian cruise they just got back from.
As strongly as I believe in the need for at least one family vacation a year, I believe just as strongly that nothing benefits a relationship better than some fun travel. If the thought of spending time away with your spouse or partner pales in comparison to more time billing to your major project analyzing amendments to your client’s standard purchase orders, then you should have taken my advice and upgraded when you made partner. For everyone in a healthy relationship, vacations are some of the best times you will have. Make sure not to neglect the opportunities that come your way to take one.
Ultimately, Biglaw treats you as you deserve to be treated. Vacation is no exception. If you are valuable to the firm, the firm will value your need for vacation. Otherwise, the firm will be at least indifferent to your needs, and will expect that your vacation will not impact the more valuable colleagues you work for or with. Keep that in mind, and have a nice trip.
Any solo or couple tips for the Biglaw folks hoping to actually take a vacation? Let me know by email or in the comments.
Anonymous Partner is a partner at a major law firm. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.