Not surprisingly, most small business owners rarely take vacation. According to a 2013 Sage Reinvention of Business Study, 43 percent of small business owners take less vacation time than they did five years ago. And from what I’ve observed among my fellow solos, vacations are even fewer and farther between. In fact, it’s not uncommon to find many solo and small firm attorneys who haven’t taken more than an extended three-day weekend as vacation in five years or more.
Solos’ reluctance to take vacation isn’t surprising. Some feel that they may miss out on a major client if they’re away from the office more than a couple of days, while others are so overwhelmed with work that they feel that they can’t make the time. Of course, cost is a factor as well, and it’s a veritable triple whammy what with the cost of the trip itself, lost revenues with fewer billable hours and the cost of bringing in an assistant or backup lawyer to cover cases.
Still, there are also costs to skipping vacation for years on end. Solos who never take a break experience burnout, reduced productivity and loss of time with family. Moreover, without vacation (and somewhat counter-intuitively), solos miss out on an opportunity to improve their practices….
A recent Fast Company story describes the benefits of taking vacation, including a change in perspective that can inspire new ideas and an opportunity to recharge batteries and gain focus. And even away from the office, vacations can create networking opportunities: perhaps you’ll wind up chatting with someone who might send you a referral or take the time to meet up with list-serve friends or LinkedIn contacts face to face. As for me, vacations have provided me with better marketing lessons than a pricey consultant. Same too for my ATL small-law predecessor Brian Tannebaum, who shared what he learned on his vacations in this earlier column.
Still, even though vacations are a good idea in theory, how can solos implement them in practice? A couple of tips:
1. Celebrate Cloudy Days: Most of us would never wish for overcast weather on vacation — and yet, it’s cloud-y days that provide solos with the freedom and flexibility to take vacation. Solos who rely on the cloud for document storage can access their files on vacation in an emergency — or even better, share necessary documents with a back-up attorney with the click of a button. Even if you never look at your files on a trip, the cloud affords solos the peace of mind that they can quickly gain access to those files in case of an emergency.
2. Keep in Contact: In recent years, I’ve found that keeping in touch by email is frequently cheaper — and certainly less intrusive — than checking in via voicemail and returning phone calls. If you have an assistant or answering service, they can forward a transcription of calls to you directly. Even easier, you can register for a service like Google Voice and forward your phone to your Google Voice number, which will in turn deliver a digital version of your voice mail as well as a transcription to email.
3. Let the courts where you have cases pending know that you plan to take a vacation. Some solos are concerned about doing so, fearing that their opposing counsel will try to take advantage of an intended trip by dropping a 50-page motion in need of response the day before your departure. By notifying the court early, you can likely get a reprieve from the response deadline; if not, you’ll need to bring in back-up. Fortunately, some courts and many regulatory agencies slow down in the summer, so you should be able to avoid major motions hearings and trials.
4. Plan for Re-entry: Unless you have a full staff back at the offices, it’s nearly impossible for a solo to completely avoid contact with the office. Nor would you want to, because you’d come back to such a huge pile of work that you’d be ready for another vacation digging out. So plan on checking in on email at least once a day, responding to short requests and putting off more complicated matters for your return. In addition, it may be worth the cost to hire a freelance or back-up attorney to handle matters in your absence so that you won’t have to when you return. Finally, as this article suggests, advise colleagues that you’ll be back a day or two later than you actually will to build in extra time for catch-up.
There’s still plenty of time to plan a vacation for this summer, or if you have the flexibility, later in the year. But whatever you do, take a break from your practice before your practice breaks you.
Carolyn Elefant has been blogging about solo and small firm practice at MyShingle.com since 2002 and operated her firm, the Law Offices of Carolyn Elefant PLLC, even longer than that. She’s also authored a bunch of books on topics like starting a law practice, social media, and 21st century lawyer representation agreements (affiliate links). If you’re really that interested in learning more about Carolyn, just Google her. The Internet never lies, right? You can contact Carolyn by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @carolynelefant.