Poll: How much vacation time have you taken in 2009?

As 2009 draws to a close, inevitably many of you are preparing for vacation. As some of the weekend commenters noted, it is vitally important for one’s sanity that you take vacation regularly — but then, it’s often difficult if you’re particularly busy. (In fact, as we write this, a good friend has been up working for 36 hours straight — while on “vacation.”) So let’s talk about this.  (Pictured:  intense aruba sunset, originally uploaded to Flickr by atomicshark.)

First, a poll:

For our $.02, our goal has always been to use as much vacation time as possible, particularly since we’ve never worked in a job where vacation days “rolled over” or could be used in a subsequent year. Our preferred method of using as many vacation days as possible has been the 4-day weekend (or perhaps a 5-day weekend, such as around the 4th of July) — if you’re still there for some of the week, it seems a bit less like your vacation is disrupting the workflow.  This, unfortunately, means that many hard-to-get-to locales are left unexplored — after all, if you’re only taking a 5-day vacation you can’t very well visit a place that takes a day just to get to — but at least means that you’ve had a break from work, mentally.  It also avoids the heartbreak of planning a 10-day trip to an exciting spot only to have work interfere and prevent you from going.  (Hint to all those finishing school and planning a trip before you start work — this is one of the only times you’ll have to travel for two weeks or more without guilt, so use them wisely.  Similarly, honeymoons tend to be respected by superiors.)   Last-minute jaunts can be a great way to make use of unexpected slow times at the office, also — we like the website Jauntsetter for last-minute jaunts for NYCers; most airlines also have e-mails listing weekend sales.

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Another trick we’ve used is to plan the entire year’s vacations at once — in December, for example.  If you have some time over the next week or so, we highly recommend looking at the entire calendar for 2010 now — figure out when major events are (a wedding in Miami, the last day of finals, your child’s spring break) and try to plan a few days’ worth of padding on either side of the events — reserving the space for your vacation now.  Put reminders on your calendar far in advance so you’ll remember to buy the tickets and accommodations.  (Be warned: a lot of major holidays are on the weekend this year — July 4th is a Sunday, Christmas and New Year’s are on a Saturday — which inevitably will mean 2010 will be particularly hard to plan.)

Readers, what are your thoughts about vacations?  What tricks have you developed to ensure you get yours?


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  1. Well, I’ve been a lawyer in a mid-sized or BigLaw firm for 7 years (post-law school I had a two-year clerkship that was lovely!). In that time, I have had more years that I didn’t take a traditional vacation than years that I did. I did manage one two-week vacation in 2005, and it was a feat of logistical planning unlikely to be repeated in this lifetime. I tend to take a total of 2 weeks off a year, but a lot of long weekends as C described. And I will generally attempt a “stay at home and get crap done” week once a year or so.

    Now, I’m a litigator, so ask me how many weekends, weeks, trips, etc. I have cancelled when work demanded it. That is soul crushing, but a TRO for a major client takes precedence over everything but probably a honeymoon or having just given birth.

    Definitely, everyone should take their vacation time when they can. Particularly if you are a younger associate. Trust me, there will come a time when you can’t.

  2. newassociate :

    there needs to be another choice: “i have no official vacation time.” my firm doesn’t have any vacation accrual policy and people don’t seem to take time off much. when work is slow, we leave by 6 though, so it’s not all bad.

    i haven’t taken a vacation yet in 2009, but will finally be escaping dec 25-30, assuming the doc review doesn’t follow me over there. that’s a pretty big assumption at this point.

  3. Sadly, I am a contract worker this year, so I never get vacation. booooooo!

  4. Yeah… I get ten days, so I hoard them like crazy. I try to take days around a long weekend as well — last year I went to Belize (which I highly recommend as a vacation spot) for six days over the July 4 weekend.

    One of my coworkers has four weeks’ vacation to use, and he takes it all at once to go to Italy. My boss is not a fan of this.

  5. I have a question for those of you out there who don’t have a set number of vacation days….my firm (medium sized in Chicago) has a policy of letting people take as much vacation as they want, as long as its prudent. Some of the partners in my firm seem to be gone every Friday (especially when its quiet) and some of the partners take very little vacation time. What would you consider “prudent”? I’ve been at my firm for about 2 1/2 years and while I have taken some time off, I feel like I probably would have taken more if I had a set number of days. Sometimes flexibility is not all its cracked up to be!

    • Had this at my last firm, but I specifically asked before hire about vacation days – I could never get my boss to commit to a number of days, so I took whatever I wanted. Generally, a total of about 5 days around Thanksgiving/Christmas – my parents are divorced and don’t live within driving distance. And, a week for a “real” vacation – I second the comment on Belize – we stayed on Ambergris Caye this year and loved it! Plus a couple of days here and there for long weekends. A couple of sick days and it amounted to about 14 -17 days per year – give or take.

      I now get 21 days per year in-house and think that I may have sold myself short on the vacation time at the firm!

      • I’ve heard of a couple of Chicago firms taking this approach – seems to me that they just don’t want to have to pay out for unused vacation days upon termination. Otherwise it’s no different that firms with a policy, really – bill your hours, get your work done and no one really cares beyond that so long as you aren’t gone for more than a couple of weeks at a time. In theory, at least – I can’t remember a vacation when I didn’t work here and there throughout the day. Post-bar trip, I guess.

    • I have this setup, and I’m in a small firm in the midwest. I generally take 2-3 weeks per year. The partners in my firm are the same: one extreme of the spectrum is the partner who takes 6-8 weeks of vacation/year; the other end is the partner who works 7 days/week and only takes off on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

    • I’m in my 3rd firm with a “no set vacation days” policy. What I’ve come to determine is this (for the record, I’m not in a big city, but one firm was a BIG LAW multi-national firm):
      (a) If you are meeting and/or exceeding your base billing requirements, then your time away is not likely to be scrutinized; and
      (b) If you’re getting your work assignments done efficiently and on time, no one will scrutinize your time away;
      (c) If you have remote access and a laptop with connective capabilities (i.e. wireless air card), you can be quite productive while physically away from the office (hence, meeting elements a and b).

      Some people prefer taking time in shorter chunks – long weekends – vs. a big trip, as they believe it doesn’t appear that they are using as much time.

      I typically took about 1 full week per year and then would take several long weekends to travel with my husband. On average, I’ll take about 3 weeks (15 days) a year. Though, we’re looking to take a major month trip in 2012 – so I’ll be away from my office about 5 weeks. So, I’m keeping that in mind over the next two years. Hopefully by 2012, I’ll be in a shareholder position with the firm, and that will take a little of the edge out of it. But it is nice not having to worry about “banking” weeks off or doing anything special in anticipation of that trip.

    • What’s “prudent” is subjective. For a partner who’s paid his dues and brought in plenty of clients, “prudent” is going to mean however much he wants. For a young/midlevel associate, I’d consult with your boss before taking leave, and avoid taking regular days off (i.e. every Friday) or more than one long trip (i.e. over a full week) per year. Otherwise people will start to notice you’re not around the office, and they’ll gossip and possibly you’ll look like you aren’t pulling your weight (even if you are).

  6. Law firm associate here w/ no designated number of vacationd days. We are able to take as many or as few as we want while still meeting our annual minimum billable requirements. In past years, I have taken a two week trip along w/ a few other three day weekends. This year, a big project pushed me ahead of hours schedule, so I’m taking off the last week of the year as well. (Firm’s bonus structure does not make going beyond minimum hours worth while.)

  7. I work in a medium-size firm in Pacific NW, and we tend to not have a set vacation time schedule. I think the general guideline is about 2 weeks, but if you need more time off (and meet your billables), the firm will not care. Last year, I traveled to Asia for almost three weeks, which was quite lovely. I had my BB with me, and had to have some interactions with clients and colleagues throughout the vacation, it was worth it. This year, though, I took a off a day here, a day there, but not a real vacation. Had one planned, but had to cancel it due to work flow.

    The challenge for me is to explaining to my non-American, non-lawyer boyfriend why I don’t take the time off to which I am theoretically “entitled.” He is used to having 3-4 weeks of vacation, and actually using them. The number of arguments I had with him over my inability to go away for a week (or having to cancel a vacation due to work) makes me wonder if being a lawyer and being in a relationship with a non-lawyer is actually possible. He is very supportive, by and large, but planning our time off together has been challenging

    • It is possible. My husband is an architect. But you have to decide what your boundaries and limits are.

    • I think that you just need to sit down and explain to him that you work at the demand of clients, that you are not fungible, and when clients want something done you have to do it. Sometimes that means a whole year or two of very intense work, and sometimes that means time for a three-week break. A lot of nonlawyers fundamentally don’t understand this until a lawyer explains it to them.

  8. redheadesq. :

    Agree that flexibility can be more a curse than a blessing at times! Not knowing your parameters can paralyze you. When I was a younger associate, I did the opposite, thinking that taking vacay reflected poorly on my work ethic. Then, one day, an older, wiser associate reminded me that “nobody’s going to give you any awards (or bigger bonus, or more kudos) for NOT taking vacation.” Since then, I have taken every last minute of vacation awarded to me.

    You have to put your foot down at some point.

  9. redheadesq. :

    I think that we Americans really need to start wondering what’s normal about TWO WEEKS – 10 BUSINESS DAYS – of vacation for the ENTIRE year. Europeans, even lawyers, take 3 weeks at once and 3 more throughout the year without flinching.

    • Yeah, I really think it’s an indicator of our unhealthy attitudes about work.

    • Yes, this. I’m reading these posts and weeping. No amount of money could convince me to take only two weeks a year, and never consecutive.

    • absolutely agree. europe seems to have a much healthier attitude about vacation time.

      • I’m in Asia and we get anywhere between 3-5 weeks annually depending on where we work. BUT it’s very common for people (whether or not they’re Asian) to take 2-3 weeks in a chunk for family visits (large number of expats where I live)/ holidays etc. It’s scary to think that 2 weeks is considered “normal/prudent” and even then not consecutive!

  10. I took more vacation this year than in years past –a 2 week trip, a 1 week trip, and a few Fridays here and there. (I am lucky in that our vacation time rolls over from year to year.)
    My advice is to block out the time from your calendar MONTHS in advance and then keep that commitment, just as you’d keep any other commitment. Do not allow court hearings, filings, meetings, etc. to be scheduled during that time. Call opposing counsel ahead of time to let them know you’ll be gone & get their commitment to not file anything while you’re gone.
    Get a colleague to cover your mail & your cases; you can avoid 99% of surprises that way. Leave a voicemail & e-mail message indicating that you’re gone, you’re not available, and that they should contact your colleague Ms. Smith should an emergency arrive.
    There’s really no reason the office should ever need you if you set your expectations early and keep them firm.

    • It’s called a TRO. It happens all the time. I do everything you said, but I’m not telling a big client that I can’t handle their emergency trade secret case because I’m going on vacation. It’s also, particularly in expedited TRO/preliminary injunction proceedings, not always possible to tell the court no on a trial date. You can avoid maybe 85% of conflicts by doing what you said – at least in my line of work, but then I do a lot of trade secret work that tends to involve emergencies.

      • newassociate :


        • I’ve done trade secrets litigation too. Abhored it. Cases always ended inconclusively, with lots of money wasted. And left me crying on the day of my daughter’s birthday/Christmas/wedding. Ugh! God bless you who can make a career out of it.

          • I really love it – most of the time. It is not pleasant when you have to cancel a trip at the last minute because of an emergency.

      • Do you not have coworkers who could file/deal with the TRO for you? They cover you and then you cover them in return?

        • It depends – on the client, on the case, on the partners involved and whether they will allow someone else to do it, on whether I want to give up the entire case (because the person who does the TRO and starts on the preliminary injunction is probably going to be the person who finishes it), on whether I have particular expertise, on whether I trust the coworker involved, on whether anyone has time, etc. There have been times in my career when, no exaggeration, I couldn’t have taken time off for a funeral. It’s just the way it is. I chose this life, and I get the benefits and the crap. :)

          • Hi @Rachel, yes it’s really impressive to say you’ve worked on a TRO — litigators know it’s the Superbowl of litigation. It’s great to see women like you standing tall with the “big boys.” Best of luck to you!

    • anon - chi :

      This isn’t really practical advise for younger associates. I have absolutely ZERO control over when things are scheduled, nor is opposing counsel likely to work around when I’d like to take time off. I doubt this would work with big cases even if I were more senior.

  11. divaliscious11 :

    Taking the balance of mine this week and next because we have use it or lose it…. last year left a few days on table, but this is a weird year. Being in-house, I try to use all my vacation, usually every 4 months, so spring break, late summer and end of the year….

  12. How far in advance do most people take their vacation time?
    I never know when a good time to ask would to be — with the exception of specific events (weddings, etc.), it feels weird asking for time off too far in advance, but cutting it too close is irresponsible, too. I know some offices have deadlines for when you want to ask for time, but mine doesn’t, which makes figuring this out more difficult.

    What’s the etiquette on this?

    • divaliscious11 :

      I put my requests in as soon as I know my plans…like while I am on vacation, I am doing my planning for next year…. I know, sort of, what my spring and fall requests will be, its my summer week that is in the air, but that is mostly around destination, not timing…its easier to get time off, and easier to plan around… i also plan a few long weekends in between my weeks off. We get sick time separately, and I can work from home if I or my kids are sick… As a manager, I want as much advance notice as possible in the event I need to have outside counsel prepared to backfill…. Another unspoke rule…the higher up you are on the totem pole, the more notice and planning. As division counsel, I need to make sure no one else on my team is going to be off, contact plan etc… when I was in a previous position, I could take time with much less notice, because there were other attorneys at my level in addition to my boss.

  13. I get 28 paid days off/year and never take a sick day (I can telecommute), barring the once-a-decade terrible flu or the like. Therefore I have lots of banked time off.

    I typically take ~4 weeks/year – 2 (together) in the summertime and the rest at other times in the year.

    I wouldn’t work for any employer that didn’t allow me to take two consecutive weeks of earned vacation, or for that matter that stopped me from taking planned vacation due to work needs. Yet another reason not to go back to private practice.

  14. Alas-the most vacation I’ve taken this year has been two days in a row so far. I use other days here and there for a three day weekend or two. My issue is economic, rather than time, which accrues up to 260 hours total before you have to use it. Unlike the MBAs and lawyers here, I’m a stone-broke librarian, and have to stay close to home because of money. The upside of being a broke librarian that works at a college, is that I get the last two weeks of the year off, and it doesn’t affect the vacation time accrued. Of course I can’t go anywhere, but at least I don’t have to go to work.

  15. In BigLaw, I got 4 weeks of vacation, and used them all, every year (I was there for 5.5 years). I would generally ask about a month in advance, then send a reminder email the week before. Usually not big trips (I am in Boston – would normally take driving trips), but one year I went to London between Xmas and New Year’s. I would generally take 2 blocks of a week each, and use up the rest with 3-day weekends etc.

    I never had to cancel bc of my practice area (T+E – no emergencies), which was awesome.

    Now in SmallLaw I am still getting used to my schedule (80%) so I haven’t taken all of my vacation this past year.

  16. C, thought you’d be interested re: blog disclosures if you haven’t seen it:


  17. North Shore :

    Glad to work for the feds when it comes to vacation time. I get 26 days a year in annual leave, which is in addition to sick leave, so I can use it all for vacation. I typically take off 2 weeks in August and a week or two in December, plus those odd days when school is cancelled for my kids; maybe spring break if I can do it. I’m in litigation, and August and December tend to be slow months for the federal courts, so I can usually get away with it. I plan the vacations well in advance to alert the courts during any scheduling conferences, plus I usually have a back-up person on all my cases. And then there’s the Blackberry for emergencies.

  18. redheadesq. :

    All goes to show that it’s as important to negotiate for vacation as it is for salary when you change jobs. Meanwhile, no matter how much time you have, sometimes the hardest thing to coordinate when planning a vacation is finding a shared time that works for your significant. I like to plan ‘big’ trips at least 4 to 6 mos in advance so that my husband and I can both block out the time on Outlook as soon as possible. Same rule applies that applies to savings and investments – ‘pay yourself first.’

    • Agreed — Spouse vacation coordination is such an issue! We’re both lawyers. Between our fluid schedules and lack of official vacation policies, we’re lucky to take one non-CLE trip a year, usually for less than a week, and then a few long weekends.

  19. I second all the comments about not having a set number of vacation days. It’s such a pain and even if two partners don’t care if you’re gone, there’s always a third who does, even if you’ve asked for the time off months in advance and have taken care of your work. Everyone says “take time, take vacation, ignore your cell phone!” but then they get upset if you do. I bailed on a one week vacation in August due to work constraints and am hoping to be out next week (it’s been on the calendar for months and partners have been apprised). It’s also a family vacation which are few and far between at this age and my family does not understand the issues with planning and being a litigator. They think I just don’t plan my time well. I definitely find 3-4 day weekends are the way to go. An entire week ends up being more stressful than relaxing.

  20. I took 2 separate Fridays off so that I could have 3-day weekends for mini-trips (Las Vegas, etc), and about 6-10 spontaneous half-days here and there when the office was quiet – granted, I don’t think sneaking out for a good workout in the early afternoon is a “vacation,” but it DOES help me stay sane.