Travel / Vacation

Relief usually connotes relaxation and release of stress. Not so for a lawyer seeking or challenging a preliminary injunction. Especially when your filing deadline is the day after a holiday you had hoped to spend doing anything, literally anything, other than working….

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Patent litigators travel frequently. I addressed the topic back in early March. Travel can be tiring, or fun, or a combination of the two. And travel episodes are sometimes good for a laugh afterwards. Sometimes, you can even learn a business lesson or two from a travel experience. On a recent trip, I was reminded that trying to save some money can be costly in other ways. And while it is nice to be running a firm that is a cheaper alternative to Biglaw, there is no excuse for letting that price differential compromise the quality of our services. We don’t, and never will, but reminders of that principle do not hurt either.

A few months ago, Zach and I needed to make a trip to meet with a client and separately deal with an issue in one of our cases. When I was in Biglaw, both of the firms I worked for had in-house travel agents, and because of the nature of my practice, I got to know the actual agents pretty well. If I had a business trip, all it took was an email or phone call, and everything would be arranged based on my travel profile and preferences. The occasional “can you get me an earlier flight” or “flight cancelled, get me home” situation was often handled seamlessly as well. And while I was never in the “client is paying for it, so it’s first class for me” camp, I also never hesitated while at Biglaw to incur additional travel cost when there was a compelling business reason for it.

So if it cost a bit more to take a flight at a certain time of day, so be it — especially if flying at those times would make me more productive, i.e., capable of generating billable hours. Or if an upgrade that would allow me to get some much-needed rest was available for a moderate cost, I would take it. But I could not stomach employing some well-worn Biglaw travel tricks, such as always booking refundable full-fare tickets in coach to pretty much guarantee an upgrade. As the years went by, of course, increased client focus on expenses cut out some of the marginally abusive practices. It is hard to worry about securing an upgrade — when you are trying to get the client to pay for the trip in the first place.

Things are different now that I have my own boutique firm….

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Don’t tell anyone where you are going. Don’t tell anyone you are going. Take Fridays here and Mondays there and pretend you are sick. Milk that mild depression diagnosis. Just let it all accrue and wait until you change jobs.  

A sampling of common advice on taking vacation as a Biglaw associate, but sometimes it doesn’t always work out….

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Everyone smile and say “certiorari”!

The opinions released by the Supreme Court this morning were not super-exciting. The good news, pointed out by Professor Rick Hasen on Twitter, is that “[t]here are no likely boring #SCOTUS opinions left.” (But see Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer, noted by Ken Jost.)

So let’s talk about something more interesting than today’s SCOTUS opinions: namely, the justices’ recently released financial disclosures. Which justices are taking home the most in outside income? How robust are their investments?

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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….

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I probably took just a dozen business trips as an associate (I travel much more frequently now as an in-house lawyer). A dozen is also about the total number of hours I actually spent working on all those flights combined. I just never could pass up the “free” travel billables, even if it meant working all night on arrival.

A more or less typical trip, described after the jump.

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The calendar says it’s spring. Though the schizophrenic weather we have had this year probably has you questioning even that basic principle of time-telling, it’s time to make plans for post-winter 2014. We are in the long stretch between Presidents’ Day and Memorial Day, and when work is getting you down thoughts drift to the siren’s song of summer vacation. Now that you’re no longer in school, that phrase doesn’t dominate your life quite so thoroughly, but planning to spent time sitting on a beach drinking something tropical can really get you through a tough day.

But how can you relax on a beach when you know you’re losing money by being there? Not just because that cocktail is an absurd $14 but because there’s no paycheck getting automatically deposited into your bank account while you lie on the beach. And while you know, intellectually, that as a temporary worker you are not afforded benefits like paid time off, the reality can still be a bit startling as you wonder how to relax while worrying about making rent.

So how do you enjoy your time off as a contract attorney?

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You learn a lot of lessons practicing in Biglaw. A big one is that you can never be prepared enough. There is always another opinion of your presiding judge to read, or a brief drafted by your opponent in an earlier case to review. Anyone who makes it more than a few years in Biglaw learns that lesson. But as much as preparation is valued, and pursued with fervor as an ideal onto itself, there is absolutely no way for even the most idealistic Biglaw recruit to fully appreciate what they are getting themselves into.

As many know, law school itself has little to teach about the realities of Biglaw, other than to idealize it as a fantasy land of big paychecks and “interesting work.” And everyone’s Biglaw experience is so unique that anecdotal tidbits are of limited utility. Does the professor, who so proudly includes on his resume a two year stint as a M&A associate at a white-shoe firm two decades ago, have much actionable advice to give a graduating 3L headed for a first-year post at even that same firm? Not really, except to perhaps suggest that the best type of relationship with that firm is one where it is your former employer….

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In last week’s column, I drew some customer service lessons for lawyers from the way that Disney treats visitors to its theme parks. This week, I want to focus on how Disney incorporates technological advances into its theme parks as a means of enhancing the customer experience.

On my recent visit, I was struck by the presence of two familiar pieces of technology from the “real world” within the Disney parks: (1) Disney’s new smartphone app for theme park visitors and (2) the availability of wi-fi in most areas of the park. Each example illustrates distinct yet relate, approaches to implementing technology for the benefit of the customer. And while I am sure that each took Disney many man-hours to develop, test, and roll-out publicly, it was refreshing for me as a lawyer to see a company of that stature making the investment to do so. It was also a real contrast to my Biglaw experience, where implementing technology in a way tailored to improve the client (and even employee) experience was all too often a low priority….

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Where The Wild Things Are (affiliate link)

Grover Cleveland’s excellent book of career advice for young lawyers has a delightful title: Swimming Lessons For Baby Sharks (affiliate link). It nicely captures the competitive nature of the legal profession today.

But the cutthroat competition isn’t for everyone. One high-powered lawyer, coming up on partnership at a top-tier law firm, decided he didn’t want to swim with grown-up sharks. He’d rather go swim with blue whales — quite literally. He’d rather be where the wild things are — and by “wild things,” we aren’t talking about cute drunken paralegals at a post-closing party.

Let’s look at this lawyer’s departure memo — great opening line, or greatest opening line? — and find out how he made enough money to break out of Biglaw’s golden handcuffs….

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