Open Thread: Everybody’s Working for the Weekend

how-to-enjoy-your-vacationIf you’re anything like we are, a vacation — no matter how restful or amazing the vacation itself is — is always preceded and followed by periods of extreme stress at the office.

With a holiday weekend coming up — to say nothing of summer vacations! — we thought we’d start a thread today on what tricks and tips you use to prepare your workload for a vacation, how you manage your workload while on vacation, and how you catch up, if at all. (Pictured:  Palm tree, originally uploaded to Flickr by TheLizardQueen.)

For this author, before I leave on vacation is an intense time, even if it’s just a day or two out of the office — I generally try to avoid scheduling a lot of lunch dates, doctor’s appointments, or nights out in the weeks on either side of a vacation. I do my best to review the landscape of what needs to go out to my superiors, as well as what’s going to come in from those I manage, and leave time for a quick review in my schedule.  (If that “you’re on the wrong path” discussion needs to be had, it’s much better to have it before the assignment sits on your desk for a week and a half while you snorkeled and drank coconut drinks.)  I also try to make sure I know what I expect the landscape to look like when I return. In terms of getting my own work done, I find Leechblock is absolutely essential — there’s a “lockdown mode” that allows you to block a number of sites for a set period.  (I like to set it for an hour and a half, but that’s me.)  If there is midnight oil to be burned, Emergen-C is my good (good) friend, as well as the other tips  mentioned in the post on eating for super-long days.  Finally, before I leave I do my best to put my work in neat piles and label them clearly — in case anyone I’m working with needs anything, they can find it easily.  (Call this a lesson learned after an hour-long cross-continental phone call a few years ago trying to help my then-secretary ransack my office to find a certain document.)

While away — know your company’s policy on checking e-mail and voice messages.  If you’re only required to check your e-mail once a day, set your Blackberry’s Auto On/Off settings to be more restrictive (like turning on at noon and shutting off at 5 — in whatever time zone you’re in) and don’t worry about it beyond that unless you have a really active project.

Readers, how about you? What are your tips for actually getting to that exciting vacation that you’ve been planning?  Any horror stories about last-minute work and how you dealt with it?  Any Blackberry rules — how often do you check?



  1. This is so timely – I am working on a huge project that was supposed to close right before the holiday weekend, and then got pushed to the week after. My parts of the project will be done by Friday, and I had planned to leave town to celebrate, but I’m debating whether to stick around instead and be here to help. S0 far, nobody has been willing to hand off some of their work, but I’m worried about just leaving. Any thoughts would appreciated!

    • I would go on your trip. This scenario comes up so often, and there are so many times in the practice of law when you HAVE to cancel a planned vacation, that you will eventually regret not grabbing the chances to get away that you. Cancel when you have to. NEVER cancel when you don’t have to. Otherwise you’ll never get away.

  2. I solve this problem by not taking vacations. Seriously – I’m not a masochist workaholic – I would love to take one! It’s just always a catch-22: either we’re so busy at the firm that no one can take a vacation, or we’re not busy enough, so I can’t afford to lose even a couple of days of billable work. So there I sit. It’s a huge strain on my marraige, since my husband works for a big corpoaration that gives him set vacation days that he has to use or lose, but I can never go. He’s currently in South Beach, while I am – guess where?

    Okay, vent over. Hope everyone finds a way to slip out of the office for a few days, even if just once this summer!

    • This. Except I am not married….but I am basically just waiting for my boyfriend to dump me over another late night at the office.

    • Ditto ditto exactly. It may be silly, but I feel like something bad will happen to me if I take vacation when I’m not even making my billable hours. And if I am busy, I don’t want to NOT be able to capture those hours.

      • Yep. Was actually just talking to hubby about vacation scheduling this week. Decided that early in the next fiscal year is the best bet — I’m in corporate and close to on track to make hours this year, and that vaca gets a lot more expensive if it ends up costing me my bonus.

      • Fashionista :

        Are you all crazy? You’re letting your jobs take precedence over your vacations (and marriages)? The world will not end if you get away for a few days… seriously. I’m pretty sure you’re not as important as you think you are – the company can get by without you, especially if you’re organized about taking some time off.

        • This. I’m also curious where people are in their careers. I felt much more like this early in my career. The further along I get, the more I realize that the potential for burnout is very, very real and that you have to grab the chances to get away. No one is going to fault you for taking one week a year. Like I said higher up, there are going to be times you HAVE to cancel. Don’t create those situations where they don’t exist.

          • SF Bay Associate :

            I am a 2nd year and I definitely feel like this. I’m staffed on two huge cases, am on pace to bill 2400+ this year, and I feel like I can’t go anywhere. We’re in the midst of discovery and depos, and trial is in the fall for one of the matters. After all the layoffs last year, we are so lean that there really doesn’t seem to be anyone who could cover me if I was gone, not to mention that everyone else (partners included) is billing just as much as I am, if not more. I was getting so burned out that the SO and I did a 1-night “staycation” at a 5-star hotel in SF in which I didn’t look at my blackberry for a 24 hour period. And the following week I worked until after 10 every night to make up for it.

            I’ve learned to never buy anything that is nonrefundable, because it is more likely than not that I will lose a deposit. I’ve learned to qualify every plan with a caveat that I may get stuck in the office, because I often do. I try to think “big picture” and schedule a vacation, but as a junior, I don’t have any control over my schedule, my cases and their calendars, or pretty much anything. The partners are my ‘clients’ and I need to keep them happy. It feels impossible to take a vacation. This thread is somewhat inspiring, but it does seem like the chorus of “take a vacation” comes from those in house or gov or senior associates at biglaw. None of this seems applicable to my situation, unfortunately.

            I’m really, really looking forward to going on a honeymoon, which seems to be the only time that no one interferes with your vacation.

          • anon - chi :

            I sympathize with SF Bay Associate. It’s easier to say “you have to take a vacation!” or “you’re not so important that you can’t leave” when you aren’t a junior associate at a firm. I’m NOT very important, yet I had to work Christmas Eve, the day after Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, Valentines Day (and night – even though it fell on a Saturday this year), Passover, etc. I’ve cancelled the same vacation twice already in 2010, and it was only a 3 day weekend! Obviously it would be great to schedule vacations when you are slow, but sometimes you don’t know that you’re going to be slow until the last possible minute – the case settles, the client stops paying the bills so we withdraw, etc. If you need to coordinate vacations with a significant other, it’s really difficult to do a last-minute trip in those scenarios.

          • I do feel sympathetic to you guys. I remember feeling that way. It’s easy for me to say now (I’m like a 9th year associate) that you should take vacations, but I’ll tell you I didn’t take my own advice when I was a first, second, third, fourth year. Now I realize that I was not as integral as I thought and that I could have gone, and I try to tell younger associates that and help them facilitate their trips. I’ve also been lucky to have a lot of help from other colleagues in covering each other.

            All that said, sometimes you just can’t go. Sometimes you really do have to cancel trips. I’ve cancelled a family vacation because a trial was scheduled and I didn’t feel in that situation I could tell the judge no. I’ve cancelled weekends with girlfriends multiple times because of a last-minute TRO or something else I needed to see my client through or because a partner scheduled a trial that I was involved in without consulting me. I’ve been on pins and needles until the day before my flight wondering if the partner was going to decide I could or could not go for a weekend. I’ve been screamed at by a senior associate when I was mid-level because he decided last minute that he wanted to do an expert call and me being on a conference call wasn’t good enough (that one got ugly and involved him telling the partner that he needed someone more dedicated – lucky for me he doesn’t have much pull).

            It’s a hard career for vacations. The best advice I can give a young associate is to take time when you can. Try to schedule and protect vacations, grab time and run when you get a little slow, occasionally sneak away for an afternoon and see a movie. It is so important. 10 years into my career (clerkship before being an associate), I have been close to burnout. I’ve had friends burn out (including my best work friend, a great attorney and a strong person, who spent a month crying in her office with the door closed and spiking her coffee with Bailey’s – luckily she was well liked and had people to help her get through it without committing malpractice or getting fired). You are kidding yourself if you think you can do 10 years in that kind of pace. And no one is going to take care of you if you don’t.

        • It’s not that I _couldn’t_ take time off. It’s just the impact a more-than-occasional-long-weekend has on the rest of that month/year. A 2000-hour a year bonus minimum = billing 40 hours a week for 50 weeks. Those 10 business days “off” are quickly eaten up by federal holidays where the firm is closed anyway. The billable hour makes vacation difficult for many reasons, but one of them is that instead of the work you don’t have to do while on vacation getting taken care of by someone else or just disappearing, that volume of work is just pushed somewhere else in the year…

          • I’d rather have my sanity and enjoy every one of my vacation days than be stuck in the office for fear of missing a bonus.

            Then again, I’m no longer in Biglaw and happily accepted 2/3 of my former pay for an in-house position that is fabulous. So clearly money doesn’t drive me! I’m still paying off my school loans, and it will take me a bit longer to do so as a result of this choice, but I have zero regrets (well, except for not paying off more of them when I had a heftier paycheck, but not like I can do a thing about that now anyway!)

        • I don’t know about everyone else, but my firm has issued a time-off moratorium while our case is on-going. It’s been on-going for close to 4 years now. Once it’s over, probably half of us will be let go, so I guess I can vacation then.

    • You probably already know this, but sending your husband off to vacation on his own is not going to help your marriage over the long run. New husbands are a lot harder to find than new jobs, believe me. A lot of women de-prioritize their marriages for jobs, kids, hobbies, etc. believing that either A. their husbands will never leave or B. if their husbands leave, they’ll be able to get married again without much effort. Neither thing is true. I can tell you from observing my friends who have gotten divorced in their thirties and forties, that dating as a divorced nearly-middle-aged woman is a lot harder than dating as a single girl in your twenties. No matter how “hot” you are, there’s a younger, less-jaded crop of hotter women out there, competing with you for the same men.
      You say you’re not a “masochist workaholic” but putting your job ahead of your marriage is pretty much the definition of workaholism for me. And I don’t want to suggest anything that is uncomfortable for you, but maybe the workaholism is an escape technique because you don’t want to be home – in which case, you’re both probably better off just cutting the cord and moving on.
      I don’t care what someone does for a living, how “important” they are, or how much money they make – husbands should come before jobs. That’s what the “forsaking all others” part of the vows is supposed to mean. Honestly – don’t you wonder what he’s doing down there in South Beach without you?

      • I obviously don’t know what happens in RS’s marriage, but I do know of couples who have taken separate vacations, and their marriage is not in trouble. Sometimes people just like getting away by themselves. I once took a vacation to Philadelphia with a friend but without my husband. Honestly, going to some foreign city alone with all the time I want to sit at coffee shops and walks S.L.O.W.L.Y. through art museums sounds like heaven to me.

        • There’s a big difference between taking occasional agreed-upon separate vacations, and never going on vacation with your husband and having it create a “huge strain” on your marriage.

      • I probably should have clarified – he took two free days, followed by a conference that everyone is his department is attending, so it was a “work/fun” trip, not a pure vacation he planned for himself. Still, I can see how I might have tagged along had I been able to take a few days off.

  3. L from Oz :

    Well, we’ve just had a long weekend here, and I did absolutely nothing to prepare for it, because the sun was shining and I ran out of the office as early as possible on both Thursday and Friday to enjoy it…it’s not something that happens around here too often!

    Anyway, I went into the weekend disorganised as a result, did nothing work related for three gloriously sunny days (including spending today at the swimming pool, yippee!) and will have to get up at 5am tomorrow to sort everything out – but it was seriously worth it. I feel about a million times better, and am quite pleased I went for the debauched option!

    Last time I had some time off I worked until I had to head to the airport, and spent half my trip answering emails in various hotels. Result: a return to work feeling stressed and distinctly unrecovered.

    So I’m not sure what the answer is, except that sometimes it’s worth just going away and worrying later. (Admittedly, I don’t deal with million dollar deals or anything in the legal field.)

    • I absolutely agree with L.
      I have had a normal weekend, I got a friend to sleepover.
      Watched movies, played social games, had brunches and did a lot of shopping for my new place. I didn’t even bother to open my inbox… when I think about it I didn’t turn on my laptop at all!
      It was just amazing and as I had the craziest monday in few months I didn’t care because at the end of the day I was still smiling remembering all the goofing off during the weekend.

  4. Delta Sierra :

    Not exactly on topic here, but maybe useful anyhow: if I’m going to have a day with a lot of running around in it, I wear pants and support hose. For a long day at a conference, that I know will go into the evening, definitely s. hose. I feel much less tired at the end of the day, and my feet never hurt. And with pants, no one need know – s. hose tends to be very shiny.

    Also, for going away, I make sure I book time at the boarding kennel for my 2 cats well in advance, so that worry is taken care of.

    My online book business (not the one on the link above) has a ‘vacation’ setting, so anyone placing an order while I’m away is notified that there’ll be a delay of x days until it is sent to them.

    • I stand for a living (well, long periods of standing intermixed with walking and sitting) and on days that I know I’m standing a lot support hose are a must! I started wearing them while pregnant, and have stuck with them with very positive results. Highly recommend for busy days, especially if you have varicosities or spiders.

  5. In addition to most of Kat has mentioned…I eat a lot of TUMS and Pepcid AC. This is largely due to (a) the anxiety and apprehension that my trip will have to be cancelled due to work and (b) the anxiety and apprehension that goes along with the idea of being away from the office for a few days. I also pick fights with my boyfriend because he doesn’t understand how stressful planning to leave for vacation can be.
    It’s awful and sick how stressful an escape from stress can be.

    • This is such an interesting phenomenon to me, especially in light of weekend comments about staying home from work when you’re sick (which I literally never do — I haven’t taken a sick day in 5 years). But in medicine, vacation is sacred. I can not imagine not taken a planned vacation. No one in my large surgery department has ever delayed vacation or cancelled because of work issues. We block the time, arrange coverage for our patients, and get on a plane.

      • Indeed, there is a strange culture in law when it comes to vacations. I work with people who bill untold numbers of hours, and the partners would have no qualms about them taking time off if they wanted to, yet they rarely do. However, I know that I run the risk of being undermined or thown under the bus by these people if I were ever to take the risk of being on vaction (because if “super-associate” doesn’t take vactions, why should “regular associate”?). It’s a game of oneupsmanship you are forced to play if you want/need to keep your job.

        • This makes me so glad that I have been lucky to have coworkers who not only won’t throw me under the bus but also help me to cover things while I am out – and vice versa. Such a healthier system! Alas, you can’t always get lucky in coworkers, can you?

      • And you guys in medicine are actually saving lives, as opposed to most of us, who treat our jobs like they’re life-or-death when they’re not. There’s a good lesson there. :)

    • Wow – this is amazing since most people are in their best health leading up to a trip – the excitement and happiness over going away usually translates into taking better care of yourself.

      • Never heard of that one before.

      • Really? I think the opposite if you have a stressful job

        • There was a NYT story a while back about a study that found happiness related to vacations occurs more before (in the planning and anticipation stage) than after (once it’s all over). I’m not sure I’ve seen anything linking this directly to “best health,” or reason to believe the finding extends to people who experience well above average amounts of stress in finding the right time to get away.

  6. *most of what Kat

  7. I find the before and after of vacation so stressful that its hardly worth it. Sad but true. Murphy’s law or whatever, but everything I’m working on always comes together in the worst way right before or, even worse, during a vacation, no matter how hard I’ve tried to plan in advance. Even if all I’m doing is delegating out and making sure things are covered, it can be incredibly stressful.

    I think one of the crappiest parts about the private practice of law is the fact that you absolutely do not have control over your personal schedule, and I would guess it is one of the main reasons so many people leave it!

    • Cosign. Went on my first vacation last March, and the week before and after that week off made me say “NEVER AGAIN.”

    • Agreed. It always seems that the moment I have a vacation planned, I have to literally run myself into the ground to get everything accomplished before I leave, no matter how many times I remind people that I will be out of the office. Its extremely stressful and often spills over into my vacation. That being said, I still make a point to take vacations. Otherwise, what’s the point of working so hard if you can’t enjoy traveling or look forward to a trip?

      • anon - chi :

        Yes – even better is when you email every partner you work with to remind him of your vacation, and then receive IRATE phone messages for the first two days of vacation from the very same partners you reminded who are upset that they cannot find you in the office. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad and stressful, and if it didn’t have the tendency to ruin one’s vacation.

    • My husband’s in private practice & I’m in house. I schedule the flights for the kids & I, guilt free. My husband flies either to or from the vaca separately & spends the whole time w/ cell phone glued to his ear. He routinely bills as much time on vaca as in the office (after all, the cell is the mobile office…). Clients call day & night. He carves out & hour here & there to sight see w/ us, then back to the phone. That’s life. It’s also why I left private practice!

  8. I’m not in law, so I probably don’t face the issues that many of the attorney’s here face. I tend to take a lot of mini-vacations, where I tack one or two days onto a three day weekend, like Memorial Day or Labor Day. My assistant is able to handle the mundane things that need to be handled and a colleague and I have worked out a buddy system where we handle urgent matters for each other when one of us is out of the office.

    And when I am on vacation, I. am. on. vacation! I don’t take work with me, I don’t check work email or voicemail. Things have worked well so far. Though I may have to think up a different plan when I leave for a two week long cruise this fall.

    • I’m in law and I take vacations. I am lucky to work with people who recognize the importance of vacations but I cannot imagine how I would survive working the way I do without them – they are absolutely my motivation to keep going! I think for most lawyers you have to learn to let go and realize the deal or whatever will go on even if you aren’t there and just be firm about your own limits. If I am taking a long weekend or a trip to visit my family, I let people know when and how to reach me and I respond to emails. Last Thanksgiving for exampled I billed about 30 hours during the week I was supposedly off. But then I always plan one vacation a year where I am completely gone for a minimum of 7-10 days where I am completely out of touch. I enjoy international adventure travel so I really do go places where a blackberry can’t reach me (those places still exist). I think because I am flexible at other times, these vacations are respected. And blocking out a minimum of 7 days, preferably with two full weekends, makes the chaos that mounts before I leave and what is waiting when I get back is a little more worth it. Also, I generally return to the office on a Thursday which means I only have a 2 day week to survive and people are usually surprised I’m back (even though that is the scheduled return date) and generally don’t pile too much on before the following Monday so Thursday and Friday are catch-up days.

      • I should also add that you also have to be flexible about the timing of your vacation. I have rescheduled and even canceled vacations around work but the key is always knowing when you fight to keep your planned trip and when you should be the team player and scrap it (on the firm’s dime of course).

        • Really, does the firm pay for cancellation fees/nonrefundable deposits if you have to cancel your vaca? Just curious, no personal experience.

          • SF Bay Associate :

            My biglaw firm would laugh at me. No way would they pay any of the fees/deposits.

          • anon - chi :

            My firm does. I believe this is pretty standard, at least among my friends who have had the temerity to (*gasp*) actually schedule a vacation.

        • Several firms – usually the biggest ones – do if it is at the request of the firm. What’s painful is the passive-aggressive, well, you don’t have to cancel your vacation, but…..

          In other words, making you cancel at your own cost.

    • Wow – I think I’m glad I’m not a high powered lawyer, after reading the above. I have no issue with vacations but it’s stressful (before) since my husband works in M&A and never sure whether the holiday will materialise till we’re on the plane! He does check the BB several times a day while we’re off, but I have come to terms with it.

  9. Wow – I guess this is one of the times when I get to feel superior for not working for a law firm – I work for a major exempt org., and have never had to cancel a vacation, or check in via e-mail. If possible I leave an emergency contact, but if not, too bad, so sad.

    I leave notes on anything in progress, put on my out of office message, and make sure I don’t have any meetings set up for the day I get back.

    I do schedule my vacations outside of our busiest times since regardless of whether I go away on vacation the work still has to be done (I’m in tax)

  10. North Shore :

    DH and I are both federal litigators, and we take vacations. I find I have more control over my schedule now than when I was clerking, because I can reschedule events, file motions to move dates, etc. Maybe it helps that I’m lead on my own cases, as opposed to an associate at a law firm, where I imagine you really would have no control over the schedule. Ok, one tip I have is to help your co-workers when they are in a bind, if you can, because then you can call in the favors when you need somebody to cover a deposition when you are in Hawaii. I’ve helped enough people over the years that I usually have no problem getting someone to cover for me if necessary.

    • Agreed. I think it helps if you’re in litigation. I block out the time a few months in advance, do not propose any scheduling orders where a pleading is due while I am gone or the week after and then plan ahead to file for extensions of time well in advance. I have one of my colleagues watch my mail to be able to take action in case an emergency arises (which really just means calling opposing counsel or chambers and saying “Res Ipsa is out of the office until [date]. Can this wait?” It always can.

      • DH and I both deal with litgation matters, although I also run some litigation related transactions. When we think we want to go on a major vacation, i.e. a week or more out of the office, we block the time out at least six to eight months in advance and both work to keep our calendars clear. My department has a calendar, so I post the time away on there so that everyone knows I will be gone. I find that judges and opposing counsel tend to be respectful of the proverbial “long-planned vacation”, especially if it is a once a year kind of thing and you really are going away (i.e. out of the country as opposed to down the lake a few counties over or a “staycation”).

        I tell my clients early and often that I am going to be gone and that if they want something done during my vacation time, they will have to have someone else handle it. That part of the process has become much easier over the years as I now service clients that either are my own originations (so that I can manage the relationship and their expectations as I see fit) or long-term firm clients that I have dealt with for years (and where I have a deal that I do not bug them on their vacations if they leave me alone during mine).

        My other trick to handle the craziness is to plan to work as least part of both days the weekend before I go out of town. I use one day to draft a memo about my pending matters and a blanket motion to continue or extend time (I use a form and update it for each trip) and one day to organize my office piles. I also try to get anything done that has a deadline during my departure week over that weekend. I find that leaving my last afternoon before departing clear allows me to deal with the inevitable emergencies that pop up without panicking.

        I do use out of office (although DH is opposed to it for anything under a week long absence), but I check e-mail and voice mail once a day if I am in a place where I can do that. My office has a system where all of the voice mails are e-mails, so I can listen to the messages with headphones at an internet cafe and forward them for handling. I am lucky that my receptionist is very good at running interference during vacations; she tells callers that I am out of the country and always tries to send the calls to someone who is in the office. Anyone who insists on leaving me a message also has to give her his/her name and number so that she can e-mail me as well (some places I have been have wifi that allows me to check e-mail on my PDA, but no facility that lets me listen to my calls).

        If I can, I like to return on a Saturday or early Sunday so that I can spend a few hours handling any e-mails before starting back to work. The first day back always is a mess, but after a week or two out of the office, I am able to handle it with equanimity!

        • Why is your spouse (? not sure what “dh” means) opposed to using an out-of-office alert? Part of avoiding stress/unhappy clients & coworkers is managing expectations. If people know you’re only going to be checking e-mail once a day (or not at all), then they’re not going to leave repeated messages wondering why you haven’t called them back/taken care of their problem within 30 minutes.

    • Agreed. Helps to be in litigation – once you get to the point where you schedule your own trials. So you can put something on your calendar and just not schedule over it – unless something like a TRO comes in you are okay.

  11. Wow. I’m so glad I don’t practice in an area or a firm where my vacations would get cancelled. Even when I was in biglaw I always took all of my vacation, and never checked my email, didn’t even bring a blackberry, and went up north where there was no cell service. :) Nota bene: I practice in estate planning. There are no emergencies. It is a good area for being able to take all of your vacation! :)

  12. I am not sure this is always effective, but it does help plant the seed. I send a “reminder” email that I am going to be out of town about a week before I go to my group (including superiors), and then I send another on the morning of my last day at work. Then I try to be strong and turn the out of office on (sometimes even a few hours before I go, so that if a client bombs me while I am scrambling to make a flight, he or she can contact someone else to help). It doesn’t always work–I have some really demading clients. But it does help folks remember not to pile it on last-minute and I swear that I get staffed less on urgent matters in the week before I go. I generally still have plenty to do and often am there late before I take off.

    • I agree, the timing and repetition of the reminders about your vacation, accesibility, etc. are key. It takes effort and patience but people will adapt. I returned from my last 4 day vacation with just 2 voicemails!

      Of course, there are always going to be people who have no common sense or respect for your personal time…I still got a couple non urgent messages sent to my personal email, but (as I had reminded multiple times) I couldn’t access my email so those went unanswered, and the clueless senders probably (slowly) got the point the same as if I had chewed them out for their lack of discretion.

  13. Go West!
    People can phone/email you in the mornings, you can deal with it before noon your time and have the rest of the day free.

    If you go East then they’ll be behind you time-wise and calling during your dinner hour.

  14. divaliscious11 :

    Vacation? What is that? Seriously, I give my clients a 2-3 weekly reminder, and prioritize what and when matters are due. If its something that might ‘pop’ when I am out, I manage it both up and down, so that as I monitor by blackberry (we have to check twice a day – for me that’s usually 3x, first thing in the am, noon, and dinner time) so no one is left in a lurch. I will direct matter traffic from vacation. If the vacation is longer than a week, I’ll usually log in and do a couple hours a day, we are staffed leanly and the only way not to come back to a mountain of work is to try and do the advice and guidance stuff every other day or so. If I was willing to go to Arizona, my next vacation would be to the grand canyon….apparently no blackberry service…..

  15. I think this is a difficult subject and it really depends on your company. Let’s be honest, if you are working at a major law firm in NYC you knew you were not getting a 9-5 job. However, I think that if you give fair warning and no surprises arise you should be able to enjoy your vacation. Companies expect you to be on call 24/7 and have you glued to your blackberry but you also must be able to learn to relax and push back when you can. There comes a time when you need a break to recharge.

  16. Reading all of these comments is seriously depressing and is making me wonder if (1) I work at an exceptional BigLaw firm where people value personal lives or (2) I’m really naive in believing that my firm values personal lives. I just started at the firm this fall and am leaving the firm soon for a clerkship, so I don’t anticipate taking vacation between now and then. However, I simply cannot imagine not taking a vacation every year! And I know plenty of people here who have taken relatively lengthy (10 day) vacations. I can’t imagine spending so much time and money planning for a vacation abroad and then cancelling it due to work. I think that alone would give me an incentive to leave the firm. I pray that I continue working for people who have outside lives and value their leisure time!!

    • I had the same thought when I started at a law firm – I knew associates who had gone for 2 week vacations, partners who had been out of the office for a month, etc. But it ultimately boiled down to the specific partners with whom I work, who take infrequent vacations and check e-mail obsessively. I have managed to take a few days during Christmas, but have lost every holiday since then. I don’t know that “firm values” means much unless you’re in a small firm.

  17. As far as checking email/Blackberry on vacations goes, I think it is way better to actually go on the vacation and check than to say “well, I’d just have to check in anyway” and not go.
    Both my husband and I check work email on vacation. It doesn’t take up a huge part of the day – we usually check once in the morning, while our son is either still asleep or waking up and still mostly out of it, and then after he goes to bed. If we see something in the morning that needs more attention than we want to give it at that point, we email the sender back with two options: I can take care of this tonight, if you can wait until tomorrow to get it back. Or you can find someone else to handle it, if you need it before then. Usually, if we’ve done enough vacation prep (as described above, with reminder emails going out beforehand, out-of-office on, etc.) we don’t get anything we can’t handle easily. One vacation, I did have a client ask for something major – it was something she had known about for weeks, and chose to spring on me while I was out. I called her and said, sorry, you knew I was going out of town, I don’t have the files with me to handle this with me. She wasn’t happy but my boss agreed with me – either she did it to be vindictive, or it was extremely poor planning on her part. Either way, not my problem. But I feel much better checking in for 15 minutes twice a day, and spending the rest of the time on vacation relaxing with my loved ones, than never leaving the office.
    There’s a fine line between being a “team player” and being a doormat. Everyone deserves time away from the office and it’s been shown that people are more productive employees when they do take time away. If you have a job you absolutely cannot leave for one week without suffering dire consequences, you’re in the wrong job. It’s a cliche but it’s the truth: no one lies on their deathbed wishing they’d spent more time in the office. If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, my regret won’t be that I didn’t get that promotion, it will be that I didn’t spend more time with my husband and son while I had the chance. I also think never taking vacations, as a young woman, is a sure path to mid-thirties career burnout. In which case, you’re going to end up the same place you would have if you hadn’t worked hard at all.
    A career is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t use up all of your physical and emotional resources in the first 10 years, because you will end up in a place where you look around and say “how did I get here? And now that I’m here, where I thought I wanted to be, why am I not happy?” Those are scary moments. Sorry to say this, but most likely, you are not as important as you think you are. A lot of people found that out in the recession when they got laid off, and probably wished they had taken those vacations and spent time with their families, because in the end, did not doing it help them? Be very careful, ladies, what you give up to keep a job. Almost certainly, the company is not going to give up nearly as much to keep you. It’s not a reciprocal relationship.

    • Amen!

    • This is fantastic advice and really resonates for me. Thanks.

    • Amen. I am 100% sure that I will not look back on this time and wish I had worked more.

    • Another amen!

    • This is fantastic advice, and having just been in this situation, I can’t agree with A. more.

      This past fall I had the option of joining my husband in Hawaii when he traveled there for his 2-week annual reserve training (all his expenses paid, except for my ticket). I would’ve gone for 5-6 days including a weekend, so only 3-4 days out of the office. But we just got back the week before from a 12 day overseas vacation and I thought “I’m doing the right thing by staying, I’m loyal to the firm, I just got back, I can’t leave again, etc.” I was laid off one month later, and received a fat check for unused vacation days. While the money was nice, I still regret not going on that trip with him. My advice to anyone (and esp RS) is TAKE THE VACATION. I did the “right thing” and showed the firm my loyalty by staying behind and still got laid off. But like A. says, it’s not a reciprocal relationship.

      No one will lay you off or fire you for taking the personal/vacation days to which you are entitled. If your firm doesn’t want you taking as much time off, then it needs to change its policy. Until then, bon voyage!

      • Anonymous :

        You had a vacation policy? Ours is you must work X number of billables. FEel free to try and schedule your vacations around it. I would never ever be able to argue I was “entitled” to vacation days.

  18. Wow, this post made me feel so sad for all of you who are cancelling vacations! Life is way too short. I’ve realized (esp after the great recession) that even if you are a workaholic, most of us are disposable. After seeing many Senior Associates, who had made huge sacrifices, get let go, I made the choice to really strike a balance in my l ife. I just returned from a totally restorative vacation at Canyon Ranch and am ready to get back to work. I’ve found that down time and personal time makes me a better employee and my boss agrees! We follow a team approach and I cover for her while she’s away and she covers for me when I’m on vacation. I always check email (usually twice a day – once in am and once in pm) but I try to let anything that can be handled by a paralegal be handled by the paralegal or another attorney.

    Before I leave for a vacation, I prepare an active report for my team so they know of any matters that I anticipate will “crop up.” I recognize that we are all in different practice areas so t his may not be applicable to others. I think I’d definitely burn out if I did not take vacations and long weekends!

  19. The worst part I find about taking vacation, is that I am extremely unmotivated when I come back to work. I don’t know if anyone else experiences this, but if I am gone for only a few days I come back feeling refreshed and recharged. If I am gone for a week or 2 I come back and just feel like, ugh – I hate working!

    It’s gotten to the point where I don’t go on extended vacations anymore because it is just too hard to go back mentally. Perhaps I just need a new job?

    • Well, after a long weekend I practically tap-danced down the corridor this morning, so I do feel recharged. I’m off for a MONTH in September, and I’ll let you know if I’m too jaded when I start again…

  20. I find vacations somewhat stressful simply because I spend the entire time worrying that something is going wrong at the office. I try to check email just once or twice a day to reassure myself that everything is ok.

    I also find that after a long trip, that staying home for one or two days allows me to return to work much more relaxed and refreshed. Some vacations are so busy and stressful that if I don’t take a couple days to recoup, I go back to work feeling worse than when I left.

  21. I’m really struggling with this. I’m planning a two-week honeymoon in September. I’ve never taken that much time off, and in the past I’ve struggled to make up billable hours from even a week away. I will be kissing any hope of a bonus goodbye (although, since the firm raised the minimum hours for a bonus, it was probably a long shot anyway). Plus, now my firm is watching everyone so closely and more cuts are expected. So part of me feels crazy for planning this trip. But I am forcing myself to think big-picture: I probably won’t have this biglaw job forever, and my fiance and traveling are my favorite things in the world, and at the end of the day I don’t want to work somewhere that would let me go because of a vacation despite the quality of my work. But I still have those middle of the night panics, and I’m sure on some level it will make the trip a little less enjoyable.

    • Blonde Lawyer :

      In my experience, honeymoons and the birth of a child are the exceptions when people don’t care that you are on vacation and actually leave you alone while you are there!

    • Take the honeymoon! You will be phased out of parts of your cases that are likely to heat up while you’re getting married and/or on your honeymoon. Be comfortable with that. Your honeymoon is one of the few times at a big firm that you truly get to disappear, and to disappear you have to ease up on being superwoman for a few weeks. A month after you’re back, everyone will have forgotten you were gone and you will be busy again. If people think you are good at your job and want to work with you, you won’t be let go just because of a vacation. (I’m sure people will disagree with me on that, but I have never seen it happen.). I will always remember my honeymoon, but three years later, I don’t remember what assignments I passed up in order to go!

    • Agree. Makes me *almost* wish I’d waited to get married to see people taking 2-3 weeks off scot-free :)

      • Thanks for the encouragement. Cat, I’m sorry you missed out on your get-out-jail-free card! I agree that people seem willing to give a “free pass” to honeymooners in terms of leaving them alone during the trip. The partners I work with will definitely let me disappear.
        It’s the consequences for when I get back that worry me—being in the hole on hours and all the stress that comes with that: getting the “check in” from my practice leader, losing control over the projects I work on (because when hours are low, you can’t say no!), etc.
        But all of you are right that I have to just get over it, go, and have a great time.

  22. I schedule my vacation, organize my desk before I leave (I too have had the panicky phone call), block the day before and the day after vacation to avoid any meetings and then – I go on vacation. I turn off the cell phone and don’t check my email. It’s not a vacation if you are still working!

  23. Beginning with several weeks before I go on vacation, I try to minimize the number of projects I’m working on where I’m the only one with the institutional knowledge. If there’s someone else on the case, I make sure he/she is familiar with the project and can follow up on it. If the person is junior to me, I pitch it as a learning experience; if the person is senior or the same level, it’s a favor. I don’t go through the trouble if it’s something small that I can handle quickly while on vacation (1-2 hours). It also helps to get some healthy perspective on how important you think you are to your job and/or any particular assignment. Yes, it’s nice to feel like people think you do excellent work, but most of the time, someone else can do it just as well with a little guidance. Or the senior associate/partner can briefly step in and help move something along while you’re gone. I used to cancel vacations and/or check email constantly during them and that behavior, along with other work habits, nearly caused me to burn out last summer. I still am on top of all of my work but I’ve learned to ask for help.

  24. I’m shocked that some aren’t even considering taking long weekend vacations. I started working straight after grad school a year, without a vacation in the summer, and I was feeling close to burned out in August.

    Since then, I’ve learned to schedule in some free time as well as some work time. (Perhaps a bit more fortunate than most here, since being in Scandinavia, I get five weeks paid vacation each year, excluding national holidays, and I get a reprimand if I don’t use all of it.).

    I’m not going to be an asset to the company in the long run if I get burned out before I hit 30.

    • I hear you – and I do take the occasional long weekend, and a Christmas-to-New Years vacation. Was planning a beach week, likely to be cancelled.

      That said, as a litigator, I have never *not* billed at least 4 hours on a “vacation” day – and often 8+. Not sure which is worse – typing and talking at your vacation destination or being in the office.

      • L from Oz :

        Thank you Europe – I also get 28 days holiday plus national holidays, and also get reprimanded if I don’t go. Even in Oz I had four weeks. I can’t imagine keeping up the pace of some people on this thread!

  25. SharkBait :

    Someone, please tell me this is different with smaller to mid-size firms? I have worked for the past 10-years in at a higher education institution, and yesterday (whooo hooo) I graduated from law school. I have a clerkship next year, but the future is uncertain after that.

    • anon - chi :

      It really depends on the small or midsize firm. Do NOT assume that all small firms are more lenient. If you work for a litigation boutique, it is often even more intense than biglaw because you give up the advantage of anonymity – everyone knows whether you are in the office or not, and because there are fewer associates to go around, you may end up being critically important to a case even if you are very junior. At least, that has been my experience.

    • Yup, I think it very much depends on who you work with – not what size the firm is. Some partners in my law firm take month-long sabbaticals, and praise associates who also take long vacations. Some partners will grind on you for coming in an hour later than usual because you took a true “mini vacation” and slept in. Also realize that as a new associate, you may have to spend a year or two “proving” yourself before you carte blanche to take a long vacation. If travel is important to you, ask questions in your interviews – but realize that they may cost you a job if your interviewer doesn’t appreciate the value of a vacation.

  26. DBF works in NYC big law (top 5) and his corporate group seems to be amazingly flexible. Billables are looked at, but there is no consequence for missing your target and he has had several partners assure him that if he is doing good work, the number doesn’t matter. He’s a little bit of a superstar for his class year in terms of ability to take on high level work, but not clear-cut partner track. Anyway, he gets 4 weeks vacation every year and uses it all. I get less time, and he’ll often stay away a few days longer on one trip a year. Of course we both check our blackberrries all the time and he’ll generally bill an hour in the morning an an hour or two at night, plus some phone calls during the day, but we have never come anywhere close to having to cancel a vacation. I guess I should consider myself very, very lucky!

  27. I’m a third year at a small commercial litigation firm, and previously worked for a mid-size firm. I typically take a few long weekends and one longer vacation each year. I work long hours the rest of the year–my kids and my husband need this time with me, and I need time away from the office to recharge.

    We took the kids to Disney World for a week over the holidays. I was responding to email while standing in line (what else is there to do?), until my partners told me to stop and enjoy my vacation. I’ve also taken vacations where I had no cell service, and the world did not end while I was inaccessible. One of the senior partners is on a two-week vacation and his rule is not to contact him unless a partner has died.

  28. I used to solve this by vacationing in a remote place with no cell phone signal. I drove into town every day or two and all my messages would show up in a batch. I let people know in advance that this would be the case, and I always vacation in late August, a notoriously slow time in my business.

    Unfortunately, though I still vacation in the same spot, the cell signal world has caught up with me. I now check many more times than once a day, because I can’t make myself stop. :(

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