According to The Go-Go’s 1982 song “Vacation,” taking a vacation could help you heal from a breakup. In 2008, we know more about the value of vacations. According to Barbara Reinhold, a contributing editor of Monster.com, not taking vacation is a “little like sleep deprivation, according to physicians and psychotherapists.”
“Just as lack of sleep impedes your ability to think clearly and act decisively, lack of playtime keeps you from taking in information effectively and seeing the totality of a situation,” Reinhold says. “Lack of sleep and play both have a negative impact on your reflex time, general resilience and ability to ward off infection. Recreation deprivation also makes you cranky.”
Last year, I achieved my best financial year to date in my law practice. And, not coincidentally, I took more vacation last year, by far, than in any previous year. I took two trips to Southern California, along with trips to Indianapolis, Sun Valley, Phoenix, Coeur d’Alene, an eastern Washington yoga retreat, and a final year-end trip to Portland to see our U.S. Davis Cup team win. In total, I was out of town on vacation for 38 days in 2007. The vacation time enhanced both my productivity and my ability to attract and retain good clients.
Scientific research into the beneficial effects of regular vacations demonstrates a positive correlation with the following benefits:
- Increased productivity
- Better sleep
- Increased overall health
- Increase in overall creativity
- Lower stress1
How do lawyers take vacations?
Advance Notification to Clients. I send out short, monthly client newsletters along with my invoices, giving clients at least two months’ notice of the scheduled vacation. If it’s a longer vacation, it deserves more discussion.
Let clients know where you are going and what you’ll be doing. Clients like to know you’re a real person and have outside interests. By telling them, it helps you form a better relationship with your clients and creates an environment where they support your time away from the office. Let clients know that you tend to be swamped right before you leave and right when you get back and ask them, if possible, to work with you so their priority items can be completed well in advance of your departure.
Line up a Back-up Attorney for Emergencies. Find another attorney in your office or, if you are a solo practitioner, either a colleague who is competent in your area of practice or a contract attorney. On both your email “out of office” reply and your voice mail message, say that existing clients should contact this back-up attorney in the event of an emergency.
Attorneys have used back-up attorneys and paralegals successfully. “In general, I close my office for the month of August,” said Sandra Perkins, a Seattle estate planning solo practitioner, “and I give clients plenty of warning about when I will be gone. My contract paralegal fields calls from people who cannot wait for my return.
“I check email at least a couple of times, but try not to engage in work until my return,” Perkins continued. “I arrange for someone to open and review my mail so my paralegal can be alerted if there is anything urgent. My paralegal contacts me only if there is some life-or-death matter that can be handled only by me.”
Transition Clients and Back-up Attorney. In addition to a newsletter, work individually with key clients who will likely require attention during your absence. Let them know how to contact the back-up attorney, and also that the back-up attorney is highly competent to handle their matter and knows who they are. Be sure to also tell the back-up attorney what matters will likely require work in your absence, background and status regarding these files, and your directions for how the matters should be handled.
Transition into and out of Your Vacation. If possible, try not to schedule lengthy client appointments or meetings on the day before you leave and the day you return. In all likelihood, you will be deluged with email and telephone calls right before you leave and will have numerous last-minute work items to handle. Rather than spending your first official evening of your vacation in your office, completely stressed and trying desperately to respond to everything so that you can leave, block out time during the day to respond.
Similarly, you know that on your first day back the email and voice-mail messages will likely be voluminous. Block out plenty of time on your calendar to handle it, so that your clients know that you responded to them immediately upon your return and that they are a priority.
Provide Guidelines to Office Staff and Back-up Attorney. Make sure you can be reached if needed during your vacation, but also communicate effectively with your office staff and back-up attorney so they know when to call you and when to handle a matter themselves.
Your office staff can support your vacation in unanticipated ways. “Once I re-emerged on a Friday afternoon after a week on the wilderness coast,” said Rebecca Wiess, a Seattle solo practitioner, “to find a note from my office on my windshield in the Ozette parking lot. Panic — what happened and how did they get a note on my car? It turned out to be good news: my Monday hearing was cancelled, so I didn’t have to work the weekend, and my paralegal had talked the Olympic Park ranger into finding my car and leaving the note, so I could continue to relax and not hurry back.”
Be Realistic and Present During Your Vacation. Even if you work hard to minimize interruptions and maximize your vacation, the possibility exists that you will need to answer some questions or do a little work during your vacation. Be realistic, understand that you may be interrupted a time or two and don’t get frustrated or upset by the interruption.
When you’ve completed the required work, it’s done. There’s no point in obsessing about the work or resenting the intrusion into your vacation. It’s in the past. Move on, be present and enjoy every moment of your vacation as it comes.
When not planning her next vacation, Stacey L. Romberg, Attorney at Law, practices in the areas of business law, estate planning and probate. www.staceyromberg.com.
1 Hockett, Robert, “Vacations Aren’t Luxuries,” The Complete Lawyer, Vol. 4, No. 3.
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Reprinted from July 2008, King County Bar Association Bulletin, by Stacey Romberg