Here’s a New Year’s resolution that will be fun to keep: plan to take at least one vacation this year. Making time to take a vacation, a real vacation, is important for your mental health and taking periodic breaks from work makes you a better lawyer in the long run. But if you are a solo or small firm practitioner, taking a vacation requires planning and a little work on the front end. Here’s a checklist:
1. Prepare your staff: In your absence, your staff will need to know (a) how to handle inquiries from new potential clients, (b) how to handle concerns of current clients, (c) what needs to be done while you are gone, (d) how to address other potential issues that may arise, and (d) how and, more importantly, when you need to be contacted while you are away. On this latter point, not all problems are true emergencies. Start thinking about these issues at least a month before you leave and train your staff on how to deal with the unexpected. For example, if your network goes down, let your staff know who to call. (Not you).
2. Provide notice: Once you know when you will be away, submit your notice of secured leave to the clerk of court for every court in which you may appear. See Rule 26 of the Superior Court Rules. This would include notice to administrative bodies. You can take up to three weeks vacation, but you need to plan ahead because the notice must be given no later than 90 days before you leave. You’ll also copy opposing counsel on any such notice.
3. Manage client expectations: If you have clients that regularly contact you, you should let them know in advance of your absence, how long you will be gone and whether you will be able to be reached during this time. I would suggest being unavailable, because if clients believe you can be reached, they will certainly try. Instead, give them the option of contacting your staff. This goes back to adequately preparing your staff. If it is likely that a high maintenance client will try to contact you, despite your notice that you’ll be gone, plan your response with your staff. If you work with another attorney, prepare that person to handle issues that may arise. Try to avoid having anyone contact you on your vacation.
4. Timing a vacation is important: Try to take your vacations around slow periods, perhaps during holidays, or, for example, during the judges’ conference. Think about the ebb and flow of work and what times of the year things seem to slow down.
5. E-mail and Voice mail: Don’t forget to leave a very specific message on your voice mail and on your e-mail about how long you will be gone, that you are on vacation, that you will not be checking e-mail and voice mail, and that you will be unavailable during this time. Give specific instructions about who can be contacted at your firm if they have a particular kind of problem. For example, a new client should be directed to a paralegal or, better still, another attorney in your office. If someone has a billing question, they can call your office administrator. These messages will direct the client to the right person in your absence and can prevent frustration on their part.
6. Check in: OK, so I know I’ve said you will be unavailable, but the bottom line is that you probably should not ignore your practice during your vacation. Even so, you don’t want your staff calling you any time an issue arises. Plan to have certain times that you check in with your staff, at least every other day. Instruct your staff to save any inquiries, if possible, until your scheduled time to call.
7. Have fun: No need to elaborate here.