The Advisory: Volume 8, Issue 3, June 2010

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Ethically Speaking

Getting away from it all

It's summer. The sun is shining. The beaches and the mountains beckon. It seems like everyone is on vacation except you. And for the nth summer in a row, you won’t be taking any time off. You need a holiday, but you are in the office because you just can’t get the time off. Your clients have needs that only you can fulfill. So does your practice. So does your bank account.

But your family has needs too! And so do you! From time to time, you need to take time off to recharge your batteries.

It may be too late for this summer, but now is the time to start planning your vacation--for next year.

Here are some tips to help you get away.

  • Pick the time when you will be away right now and publicly commit yourself to it. Mark it in your diary and your assistant’s diary. Tell your colleagues, your friends, and, above all, your family. Don’t try to keep your options open or leave the dates vague so you can deal with contingencies. Make the contingencies fit around the vacation.
  • Start making irrevocable plans for your time away. Arrange your itinerary. Book flights and accommodation. Commit.
  • Develop a “buddy” relationship with another lawyer so you can cover each other during your absences from the office. Your buddy should be someone you trust who is experienced in the areas in which you work. Coordinate your vacation time with your buddy’s schedule so you are not both away at the same time.

As your vacation time nears, the pace of preparation will quicken.

  • Call your major clients well in advance and ask if they anticipate anything coming up during the time you will be away; if so, can you get started before you leave? Or can it wait until you get back? They will appreciate the anticipation and concern.
  • About one month before your departure date, review your entire practice. Make a list of things that must be done before you leave and another list of things that it would be nice to have done. Concentrate on getting the priority items done first.
  • At the same time, review your limitation diary to ensure that limitations that expire during your absence will be dealt with before you go.
  • Start cutting down on appointments, court appearances, etc. at least two weeks ahead of your departure date. Those last two weeks are bound to be jam-packed with work as you try to get your practice under control before you leave.
  • Make sure your files are well organized and filed where they are supposed to be. Get your filing caught up. Make sure crucial details are documented so your buddy can determine the status of the file at a glance. Make sure the client’s and opposing counsel’s phone numbers are readily visible inside the file.
  • Bill out as much as you can before you leave. If you don’t, the billing lull during your absence will result in a cash flow crunch a couple of months later.
  • Make arrangements for cheques to be deposited while you are away. If the person doing the deposits is not a member of your own staff, make sure they understand the information you need for your bookkeeping system and have them photocopy every cheque that comes in.
  • Advise your clients and the lawyers on the other side of your files when you will be away and who they should contact in your absence. Do this well in advance of your departure date. Invite clients to call you if they have any concerns about what will happen to their files during your absence. Ask opposing counsel not to schedule any court proceedings during your vacation time — and reciprocate when others ask the same of you.
  • Whether to give clients and other lawyers the name and phone number of your buddy will depend on whether you will have support staff in the office when you are away. If you do give out the buddy’s name and number, tell people that the buddy is for emergencies, not to keep the file moving while you are away.
  • If you have any trust cheques that will need signing during your absence, arrange for your buddy to have temporary signing authority on your trust account. (The Law Society rules require a lawyer’s signature on trust cheques and prohibit post-dated cheques and blank, signed cheques).
  • Make sure someone is available to handle urgent mail, notices, etc.
  • If you are in a space-sharing arrangement, make sure everyone knows what is going on in case an emergency happens and your assistant is not available to handle it.
  • Do not, under any circumstances, schedule anything for the first two days after you return to the office. You will be busy enough going through the mail, answering phone messages and settling back into the routines.

Finally, here are a couple of recommendations for when you are away.

  • If you are only going away for a week or two, don’t take any work with you — including reading. Make your vacation a complete break so you return to the office completely refreshed. Don’t take your laptop or your Blackberry, but if you can’t resist, use it only to Google a good restaurant
  • For the duration of your holiday, stop being an A-type personality with a deadline. Let go. Let someone else be in control. Take your watch off. Don’t sweat small stuff. Smell roses. Go with the flow. Watch the sunset — or rain, or whatever gets handed to you.
  • If you are particularly anxious about your practice, leave a number where you can be reached, but do not call in. If you call in, it will be too much like “business as usual” for both you and your staff.

Now go, have a good time, and send me a postcard!

(Article reprinted and updated from the Law Society of Alberta’s website and written by Paul McLaughlin, formerly a Practice Advisor with the Law Society of Alberta)

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