For many lawyers, the thought of taking a vacation might seem daunting. Planning to take time off when you have a demanding workload might seem counterintuitive, especially if you see yourself getting buried under an even larger workload once you return.
However, the legal profession is a demanding one, and to avoid burnout, it’s important to take a break from time to time. With the right preparation, it’s possible to take a well-deserved vacation—and to actually enjoy it.
Here’s a vacation checklist to go through before going away. Use it, and you’ll feel better knowing that everything is organized while you’re gone, and that you’re prepared for when you return.
1. Pick the right time for your vacation.
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. The 2017 Legal Trends Report has more data on seasonal trends for different practice areas to help you make your decision.
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. One lawyer suggests planning six months ahead.
Finally, don’t forget to take any conferences you might want to attend into account. Plan your vacations around these dates, or better yet, look for opportunities to tack your vacation onto a conference trip. For example, the 2019 Clio Cloud Conference is taking place in San Diego, “America’s Finest City” by the sea.
Once you’ve considered your options, pick a time, put your vacation in your calendar, and start setting yourself up to take time off.
2. Notify clients, colleagues, and staff.
Start by telling your clients that you’ll be away, and by specifying who to contact with questions in your absence. They’ll appreciate knowing that you’ll be off the grid, or at least only checking messages at irregular intervals.
More importantly, according to Rule 1.4 of the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, lawyers need to communicate with their clients promptly, and in a manner that’s convenient for them, so ensuring clients are still getting timely updates on their cases (from you, a staff member, or a colleague) is key.
Of course, you’ll also need to tell your staff, firm partners, and anyone else you work with that you’ll be taking a vacation. Give clear instructions for:
- Work that needs to be completed in your absence.
- Contact information for the lawyer providing coverage in your absence (if applicable).
- How to contact you on vacation, and when it is (and isn’t) appropriate to do so.
Don’t forget to give any judges or courts you’re working with advanced notice of your intention to take a vacation, as this may help avoid court dates being set during the time you plan to be away.
3. Plan your caseload around your vacation.
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 ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, “A lawyer’s workload must be controlled so that each matter can be handled competently.”
This includes managing your caseload to allow for a vacation. In other words, avoid taking on cases that you know will suffer by your planned absence.
Also, it’s worth considering what will happen immediately before and after you return: If at all possible, set aside some time to plough through work and tie up loose ends before you leave. This includes both finishing up outstanding tasks and providing information to others so that they can complete work for you. The more organized your caseload is, the more fully you’ll be able to enjoy your vacation.
In terms of your return, avoid setting deadlines for the first two or three days that you’re back in the office. You’ll likely want to be catching up and reviewing what you’ve missed during this time, not rushing to meet a deadline immediately after returning from time off.
4. Arrange for short term coverage, if needed.
If you’re working at a mid-sized or larger firm, speak to fellow colleagues about your current cases, and make sure your clients are covered in your absence. Ideally, you’ll complete your work yourself before you leave, but if this isn’t possible—or if something unexpected comes up before you’re about to head out the door—you have a responsibility to make sure your clients will be taken care of.
If you’re a solo, or if you work at a small firm and your colleagues have their own heavy caseloads, getting short term coverage may be a bit more tricky. Thankfully, there is a large market of freelance lawyers and legal professionals who have built careers on being hired guns.
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.
5. Take time to create a succession plan.
If something happens to you while you’re on vacation, you have an ethical duty to be prepared. According to Comment 5 on Rule 1.3 of the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct:
To prevent neglect of client matters in the event of a sole practitioner’s death or disability, the duty of diligence may require that each sole practitioner prepare a plan, in conformity with applicable rules, that designates another competent lawyer to review client files, notify each client of the lawyer’s death or disability, and determine whether there is a need for immediate protective action.
If you own a practice, having a succession plan is extremely important for protecting your clients and family members at any time. If you don’t have one in place already, it’s definitely something that needs to be done before you take a holiday.
6. Automate wherever you can.
In addition to getting outside help, automation will keep your practice running, even while you’re on the beach.
For example, if you own a small firm, you may want to automate your client intake process so that visitors to your website can become new clients even while you’re away. For example, set up a process that allows incoming clients to self-schedule initial calls, and block off your availability while you’re gone to avoid disappointments.
7. Triple-check your calendar.
Before you head out the door, take one last look at your calendar to make sure nothing’s been scheduled in your absence. If you see something pop up, arrange to move the appointment, or to have someone else attend the meeting or complete the required work in your place.
8. Make sure someone knows the office alarm code.
This item is mainly applicable for solo and small-firm and attorneys, but it’s an important one: You don’t want a staff member setting off the office alarm the first day you’re gone, and you don’t want everyone to be locked out of the office if there’s a flood in your building while you’re away.
Share your alarm code, and any other important office information, with a trusted staff member, colleague, or family member (if you’re a solo) before you go.
9. 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.
10. 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.
Tip: The 2019 Legal Trends Report found that lawyers who use Clio Payments get paid faster—57% of electronic payments get paid within the same day and 85% get paid within a week.
11. Set an effective out-of-office response.
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.
Enjoy your vacation.
Taking a vacation will boost your chances of success in the long term. By ensuring you’re refreshed and ready to do your best work, you’re doing right by your clients, and yourself.
Take the right steps before you go so that you can take time away from your firm, worry-free:
- Tell the right people. Tell your clients, staff, judges, and anyone else you work with about your plans to take a vacation well in advance.
- Prepare for before and after. Clear your calendar while you’re away, and set aside time to tie up loose ends before you go and get back on track once you return.
- Make sure you’re covered. Arrange for short-term legal coverage if needed while you’re away.
After completing everything on this checklist, you can finally relax and go on that well-deserved vacation.
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