This website and other outlets have discussed at length how work-life balance has been upended at numerous law firms in recent years. Lawyers and staff are routinely tasked with working outside of business hours and on nights, weekends, and other times when lawyers have off. Many law firms have vacation policies that allow attorneys and staff to take off for a set amount of time each year, but lawyers may need to complete work and respond to emails while away. Additionally, many lawyers may not feel comfortable taking time off for fear that this will be counted against them for promotions and other advantages. More firms should consider requiring attorneys to take mandatory vacation and have policies in place that ensure that these individuals are not bothered while on vacation except in extraordinary circumstances so lawyers can recharge their batteries and be more productive when they return to offices.
The first time I heard of employers requiring mandatory vacations was when a brother of mine told me about a policy at his workplace several years ago. He told me that he was forced to take two weeks of vacation each year at his financial firm, and people were precluded from bothering him during this time. My brother made clear that he was not required to go away to a typical vacation locale, and he ended up doing a staycation during this time. However, my brother was able to rest, unwind, and recharge his batteries so he could be more effective when he returned to work.
Vacations at numerous firms are not a true break from work. Many lawyers need to answer emails, respond to urgent tasks, and complete other work while on vacation. Attorneys may want to show their bosses that they are committed to a firm, and for this reason, they may complete tasks even if they have time off. Moreover, law firms may not have enough resources to complete tasks when an attorney is away, and this compels the attorney to act. This phenomenon is just an extension of lawyers and staff bending expectations around other times in their lives when they should not be held responsible for completing work tasks.
As many of us know from firsthand experience, attorney burnout is a huge problem. Countless people leave the profession because of stress, conflict, and all of the other issues individuals face while practicing law. Moreover, the long hours that attorneys need to spend on their work can take a toll on even the most resolved individuals. Attorney burnout is extremely problematic for law firms since it can lead to inefficiency in workflow and increased efforts at recruitment and retention.
Faced with the issue of attorney burnout, more law firms should try mandatory vacation policies. Many law firms already have vacation time in place, so law firms seemingly understand that vacation is an important part of the work cycle. All law firms would need to do is have a policy in place compelling attorneys to take vacation that they are already offered and ensure that attorneys are not bothered while they are on vacation.
Some might believe that practical issues may prevent firms from implementing a mandatory vacation time. But it would be easier than most firms think to have mandatory vacation policies. Individuals usually are not critical to completing tasks for clients. Most firms can ensure that attorneys and staff might fill any gaps that shops may face when individuals take mandatory vacation time, and lawyers can usually time their vacations for when they do not have pressing work back at a firm. Lawyers can use out-of-office replies to tell people who should be contacted for emergent matters, and many lawyers already implement this practice.
Moreover, some shops may think that requiring mandatory vacations might lower the amount of billable hours logged by attorneys. Of course, if someone is away from a firm and unable to bill time, they have less opportunities to generate revenue for a firm. However, and this might be a little optimistic, mandatory vacation policies might help lawyers bill more time during the days that they are at work.
It is difficult for attorneys to stay focused and productive when they are burnt out and stressed about work. I am sure we have all been in the situation in which stress that we face, and a lack of relaxation, makes us more prone to waste time and not dedicate ourselves to our jobs when we are on the clock. Vacations can help people unwind, recharge their batteries, and reset their mentality. This can help attorneys get out of a funk and can make them more productive once they return to the office and for a period of time after their return.
All told, attorney burnout is a huge issue, and one of the reasons for this burnout is that lawyers often cannot take vacation without completing work tasks while they are away. Lawyers should make it a policy that lawyers need to take vacation and that they cannot be bothered while they are taking time off so that lawyers can reset their batteries and better enjoy their vacation.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at [email protected]