Vacation

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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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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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….

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Time for a break from the bad news. There is no fun in checking ATL and seeing layoff news on a daily basis. Even though that sort of action is likely to continue, as firms finally come to grips with what sophisticated clients are willing to pay for. Which is basically partner time, with allowances for some associate and paralegal time on occasion. In the good years when clients were gorging on legal services as if sitting at a ten-course chef’s dinner, partner time was the indulgent dessert. Now clients are eating at the local diner, and partner time is the eggs and sausage $4.99 main course. You hope the customer is willing to pay for a cup of coffee too, and get kind of worried that the diner across the highway is giving away the coffee for free. Because they are, and their glop tastes just as wonderful as your glop.

Vacations and Biglaw have an interesting relationship. For partners, late August and the end of the year were usually guaranteed time off, barring a trial or a deal in progress. For associates, it was a different story….

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I watched the sunset with my son last night. I told him that today would never come again, and that I was so happy to have watched the day end next to him. It then occurred to me that I had missed so many events since becoming a practicing lawyer; and for what? The easy answer is that I was such a hungry young turk, that I would always choose work over play because that is what lawyers do. Especially Biglaw attorneys. It was simply a rite of passage to regularly catch the 8:03 p.m. with a couple of oilcans of Foster’s Lager, arrive home after 9 p.m., and be up again at 6 a.m. to rinse and repeat.

Even more hardcore was pulling an all-nighter in an effort to prepare a brief for filing. Associates would lament, with an undercurrent of braggadocio, about how they had to cancel a vacation in order to complete a filing. And the funny thing is, I don’t recall any partners cancelling anything — ever. So, the hard (and candid) answer is that I was a fool….

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I’m one of those lawyers that goes on vacation. Not just long weekends, real vacations. I pity those of you that pride yourselves in announcing, “I don’t take vacations.” Good for you, you pathetic drone. I didn’t take vacations at first, as I was always fearful that someone would call to hire me on a non-emergency basis and wouldn’t wait until I came back. Now I don’t care. If you can’t wait until I come back, there are plenty of lawyers on the internet to hire that can take your PayPal payment online and send you whatever documents you think you need to handle your case.

When was I able to take my first two-week vacation and not worry about business? After 14 years in private practice. I say that because I know how patient all of you are out there.

First, let me congratulate the commentariat, who I found in San Francisco had turned their child-like recurring comments into a t-shirt business. See, there’s all kinds of ways to make money as an unemployed lawyer, not to worry. (For those of you that tell me you don’t read the comments, it’s okay, just look at the picture and imagine those phrases being said over and over again, anonymously.)

Anyway, when I’m on vacation, I think about my business. I think about what I love, what I hate, and what I want to change. There is nothing like thinking about your business (not the cases or the clients) while you are away from the phone calls (if your phone is ringing), other interruptions, the deadlines, and all the trappings of a lawyer’s day. (That was tip number one of today’s column for those of you shallow folks that can’t comprehend messages that aren’t in your face with drawings.)

One of the things I do a lot while I’m away is watch other businesses. I try to figure out how they make their money, why their employees are happy, or unhappy, why their customers patronize the store, restaurant, tour company, and how they handle problems. You’re an idiot if you are trying to build your law practice solely by watching how other lawyers run their practices. Client dynamics can be found in many places, and ideas come from everywhere. Most lawyers are doing it wrong anyway. (Enter tip number two — see how that works?)

Here’s what I saw over two weeks in California….

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Summer in Japan; Beautiful cherry blossoms; Radiation low.

Some of you are just getting back today after a nice summer vacation. Others are working in half-empty offices because their colleagues left for vacation this week.

But few of you will bring the kind of poetic grace to your out-of-office replies as one of my friends did. This elegant lawyer conveyed all the information anybody needed to know in two haikus….

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Staci here. When you finished law school, you probably thought you’d have some time to relax before bar exam hell started this summer, but you quickly found out just how wrong you were about that.

So instead of going to the bar and getting all wasteyfaced, you buckled down and studied hard for a few weeks. But you still felt deprived. You still felt like you needed to go out and get your partying ways out of your system. It was then that you had an epiphany — come hell or high water, you were going to take a weekend trip to Vegas to escape from your bar exam woes.

Now, this may sound incredibly stupid to some of our readers, and to be quite frank, it is. It’s about as stupid as choosing someone like me as your bar exam study partner. But Mr. Bar Exam didn’t care.

Let’s see the important lesson he learned in this week’s episode….

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Billable-hour requirements are generally like the price of gas: they just keep going up. A law professor might compare it to a one-way ratchet. As law firms try to increase their profitability — by doing more work with less manpower, thanks to recessionary layoffs that haven’t been completely reversed — they ask more and more of their lawyers. Right?

Well, not necessarily. One Biglaw firm recently lowered its hours requirement — and instituted some other perks worth noting.

Might other firms follow suit? Perhaps yours?

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Fiscal year end for us is officially this coming Saturday. Until then we’re expected to be on call 24/7. While it might seem draconian, we’re a sales-based technology company, and the push is on for the “Field” to get their year-end orders completed. I readily admit that being “on-call” just four times per year (three quarter ends and one year end), rather than “all year all the time,” is not a bad deal.

When I was in private practice, you were expected to respond top clients ASAP, if not sooner. It didn’t matter where you were or what you were doing, you had to respond. I brought that attitude with me when joining my current employer. This not only took many of my clients by surprise, but by putting myself out there as a go to attorney 24/7, I find that very few clients actually take advantage of that proposal. Truth be told, I am able to “disconnect” on vacation weeks, and I have forewarned anyone tempted to call me at home that if it isn’t a true emergency, I’ll just put my two-year-old on the phone and let them discuss the latest happenings in rugrat world….

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