There is no such thing as a “standard workday” for lawyers. Many legal professionals work long hours to help their clients through serious issues. For lawyers, working in legal is a lifestyle, not just a profession.
It’s important to take a break from this demanding workload from time to time. However, the thought of taking a vacation can be a source of anxiety for busy lawyers due to high volumes of work that build up while they’re away, leading to added stress upon their return. This counteracts the purpose of detaching and relaxing while “out of office.”
The objective of a holiday should be to fully recuperate, and in turn, experience the long-term benefits that come with rest and relaxation. That might seem impossible for lawyers, but with careful planning and preparation, it is possible to enjoy your vacation and avoid an unmanageable overload upon your return.
For starters, most vacation-induced stress can be avoided with proper timing. Consider: For a litigator, court holidays might be a good time for vacation. For a tax lawyer, tax season would be a bad time for a vacation. Beyond seasonal considerations, there’s the ebb and flow of your own workload to look at—if you are anticipating a busy caseload or a trial, plan your time off far enough in advance so that it does not conflict with any client or court obligations.
Pick a time, put your vacation in your calendar, and start ticking off the items on this vacation checklist while you’re planning your time away (and before you head out the door). We bet you’ll feel that much better about taking some much-deserved time off.
1. Make sure your clients are covered
You may be taking a vacation, but you still have ethical obligations to your clients. As per Comment two on Rule 1.3 of the American Bar Association’s Rules of Professional Conduct, “A lawyer’s workload must be controlled so that each matter can be handled competently.”
This means managing your caseload to allow for a vacation. In other words, avoid taking on cases that you know will suffer by your planned absence.
Start by telling your clients that you’ll be away. They’ll appreciate knowing that you’ll be off the grid for a few days, or at least only checking messages at irregular intervals.
If they anticipate needing your services, let them know about the potential change in communication channels or introduce them to your locum lawyer (a temporary replacement). In fact, you have an ethical obligation to ensure that you are well covered in any absence. According to Comment 5 on Rule 1.3 of the ABA’s rules of professional conduct:
The duty of diligence may require that each sole practitioner prepare a plan… that designates another competent lawyer to review client files, notify each client of the lawyer’s death and disability, and determine whether there is a need for immediate protective action.
Thankfully, there is a large market of freelance lawyers and legal professionals out there who have built careers on being hired guns. Not only do the ethical rules require a locum, but having someone handle your cases also offers great peace of mind—knowing that you have coverage and that your clients are well taken care of means you can relax on your vacation.
Tip: If you’re a Clio user, there are co-counsel features that make it easy to provide adequate coverage for your clients without creating a hassle for your friend helping out.
2. Set effective out-of-office auto responses
It might seem obvious, but a correctly worded out-of-office message can save you a number of stresses, namely from missed requests on urgent matters. This can also help maintain your client’s faith in your ability to handle their case, cementing your reputation as a reliable lawyer.
Craft a message that is relevant, informative, and polite, but also word it in a way that makes it clear you’re only available to respond to serious emergencies. You’re on vacation, so do a gut-check before responding to that ‘urgent’ email—does this really necessitate an interruption to your time off? Depending on the client and your practice area, the answer might be yes, but make sure you’ve explored alternative options before cutting into this time to recharge.
Always include an alternative contact for urgent matters. If you’d like to take auto responses a step further, services such as Ruby Receptionists ensure that your client reaches a human voice and no message is missed whenever you’re unavailable.
3. Prep your inbox for your return
Want to avoid an email avalanche upon your return from vacation? Set up an email filtering and filing system prior to leaving. This ensures that you won’t return to an unwieldy inbox that takes several hours to wade through.
Consider tagging emails from certain people, such as key clients or co-counsel, so that they stand out when you return. Also, consider tagging newsletters you subscribe to so that they’re automatically filed under a separate folder, leaving your inbox less cluttered and making it less likely that you’ll miss key messages.
Finally, if you have time, conduct a quick audit and unsubscribe from spam or unnecessary newsletters. This is just one more step that can help ensure a cleaner inbox upon your return.
4. Automate wherever you can
In addition to getting outside help, automation will keep your firm running, even while you’re on the beach. For example, you may want to automate your client intake process so that visitors to your website can become new clients even while you’re away. Set up a process that allows incoming clients to self-schedule intake calls—like Jennifer Reynolds of Fresh Legal has done—and block off your availability while you’re gone to avoid disappointments.
5. Send outstanding invoices
Delays in invoicing will ensure delays in getting paid, affecting your overall cash flow. Make sure you’ve invoiced any outstanding billables before you leave the office, and that you’ve got a plan to follow up and collect payment.
If you’re a Clio user, make sure you’ve set up Clio Payments so that clients can pay their bills by credit card, using a link that’s right in the email that notifies them of their invoice. This method is proven to get lawyers paid 11 days faster.
Tip: If you need to help your cashflow along, Fundbox allows you to get an advance on outstanding invoices in Clio.
6. Ignore the stigma of taking a vacation
Last, but definitely not least, enjoy your vacation.
The long-term mental and physical health benefits of taking frequent or necessary vacations are heavily documented—Ernst & Young conducted an internal study of its employees and found that for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings improved 8% and frequent vacationers also were significantly less likely to leave the firm.
In short, taking a vacation will boost your chances of success in the long term. What are you waiting for? Book now!