Tuesday, June 23, 2009
As I wind down a two-week vacation, yes, two full weeks of vacation, I reflect on 15 years of practicing law and how it is only recently that I was able to take this kind of time off.
What I know now, is that I probably could of taken this kind of time off in the past, but was too afraid. And yes, early in a solo career, two weeks vacation, is not going to help you build a practice.
I never went away for more than a "long weekend" because the "big" case may come in and I would miss it, the several things I had set in court "couldn't" be covered by any other lawyer, and I just could not be away for that long, because.
I also had the scar of being burned. I was hired on the biggest case I ever received. The client was arrested on a case for which bond was set at 2.8 million dollars. Within hours of being hired, I negotiated a one million dollar bond, and left for a 3 day conference upstate. Upon arriving at the conference, the prosecutor called to say she was withdrawing the offer for a one million dollar bond due to "newly discovered evidence" about my client's financial status.
Throughout the days of the 3-day conference, including two of those days being Saturday and Sunday, I received numerous calls from the family and close friends of my client. They made it my fault and wouldn't leave me alone. Every hour - "when is he getting out?" I spent the entire conference being awoken by my cell phone and leaving every meeting, session, and meal with colleagues and my family to take the same calls with the same conversation. When I returned, I learned another lawyer had met with my client and was hired. I was devastated, my wife and office staff were thrilled. Five years later, that case is still going on. I now know that no amount of money (well let's not get crazy) would have made this a "great" case.
This happened being away for 3 days. I could never go away for two weeks.
As my practice grew, I realized I had a choice: Never leave town for a significant period of time to assure I'd never miss out on "the big case," or realize that there is more to life and that the fastest car in the race has to make a pit stop like everyone else.
It's not easy, but it is necessary. There is something about taking a real vacation that makes what we do as lawyers that much more rewarding. Here's what I've learned:
 Plan 6 months ahead.
Lawyers love to use the excuse "I have a trial set that week." I don't care who your judge is or where you practice. If you walk in to court on January 4 knowing that you are going on vacation June 10, sound the horns. Tell your judges, well in advance. I think that many of us quietly hope things get set during our planned vacation time so we don't have to go and can perpetrate the fallacy that we just "can't get away."
 A month before, meet with at least one, preferably two lawyers who will be handling all your in and out of court matters, emergencies, and meetings with new clients who "must" meet with someone prior to your return.
 Two weeks before you leave, have a meeting with your staff.
Explain the following:
(1) This vacation is important, you really need them to be on top of everything and not contact you except in extreme emergencies.
(2) New clients should NOT be told you are away for two weeks but everyone else should. New client messages should be given to you and await your instructions.
(3) You would like one email daily of all important mail and messages, other than new clients.
(4) Anything that does not require your attention until after you return, you don't want to hear about.
(5) They are to be firm with those that insist on reaching you while on vacation. The answer is no.
 A day before, send an email, fax, text to those clients who you believe may contact you during those two weeks.
Let them know you've left everything in the hands of your capable staff and other attorneys. Explain that nothing important will be going on while you are away, but if there is an exergency, they are free to call your office.
 Accept that technology is your friend on vacation.
Unless you have 3 cases, you will find it hard to break away from the internet, email, or the cell phone, and you shouldn't.
There is nothing worse than returning from vacation and having 36 phone calls to return and 200 emails. It annoys me when I return an email or text or even a call on vacation only to hear "I thought you were on vacation?" Yes, I am on vacation, but I'm not stupid. I'm back in the office Monday with most messages returned.
Some advice here, and it's obvious: Wake up, read and return email, and then do it again at night, unless it's your office with a new client. There's no reason we have to disappear these days, but it is important to detach from the daily grind of returning emails, texts and calls within minutes or even within the hour. Leave the phone in the car, at the hotel, or locked up somewhere.
When I return, I'll have a ton of work to do. I know exactly what needs to be done. I knew about all of it before I left.
Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. Please visit www.tannebaumweiss.com