Let’s get one thing out of the way: You should be taking your vacation time.
While it can feel impossible to tear yourself away from your clients, time spent away from work will make you a better lawyer in the long run. We promise.
But how do you know if your vacation plans are too much? Especially in an era in which some law firms are introducing unlimited vacation as a perk and most BigLaw attorneys start with 20 days off, it can be difficult to know if your vacation wishes are appropriate or extreme. There are, however, some ways to gauge whether your vacation will keep you away from your clients too long or could land you in hot water.
Technically, There’s No Right Answer
While science says the magic number is eight (as in, an eight-day vacation is the ideal length for your happiness and relaxation, according to researchers, and you don’t need to take more time than that), there is no perfect vacation length. And depending on your work, you might be required to answer calls or emails no matter how long you’re away, anyway. The right vacation duration depends on a number of factors unique to each lawyer: the kind of law you practice, your employer’s policies, your caseload, your firm’s culture, your billable hour requirements. Speaking of billable hours …
Trouble Hitting Your Billables?
Here’s a good rule of thumb: If a vacation will cause you to struggle with hitting your billable hour requirements or managing your caseload, it is too long. While there’s a good chance a week away won’t significantly negatively affect a case, there’s an exception to every rule. Make sure you’ll be able to comfortably (or, as close to comfortably as possible) hit your goals before deciding on a vacation. After all, time off that gets in the way of billable hours could even haunt you down the road, acting as a black mark on your record in your quest to become partner.
Any Vacation Time is Too Much When You’re Swamped
Sure, much of your workload can’t be predicted. But if you know a closing is coming soon, or a trial is on the horizon, you need to be at work—both when those events are on the calendar, as well as in the weeks leading up to them. A weeklong vacation during a slow period, for example, is likely fine (once you’re able to silence the voice in your head telling you to work nonstop, though that’s another story). However, any time away during a busy period is probably too much. Do your best to plan vacations around slower times in your schedule, and make sure the partners you’re working with are aware of any upcoming time off.
Shorter Isn’t Always Better
It can be easy to assume that, as a lawyer, you really can’t swing a weeklong vacation and taking a bunch of long weekends over the course of the year is a better plan. But … you’ve probably heard what happens when you assume. The truth, of course, is that many of us have to put in work on Saturdays and Sundays. If you’re constantly taking long-weekend jaunts, you’re leaving your weekend work for your colleagues to cover, which is a quick way to arouse resentment. Chances are, a carefully planned eight-day vacation will be much easier for everyone (clients included) than eight three-day weekends.
What If You Need More Time?
Is spending a month backpacking through Australia a bucket-list vacation for you? Pulling off such an adventure is definitely a challenge once you’ve graduated and your law career has officially kicked off. While you can never say “never,” most lawyers won’t be given the opportunity to take a monthlong vacation while employed fulltime. Instead, your best bet is to save once-in-a-lifetime vacations for time in between jobs. If a lengthy trip is in the cards for you, do your best to negotiate a later start date when switching jobs. Then, schedule the big trip after leaving your current employer and before starting the next opportunity.
Plan a vacation but be respectful about it. Schedule your time away well in advance, make sure it’s not coinciding with an expected busy period, and make sure anyone who works with you knows it’s on the calendar.