This week in Things I Wish I Knew… Joleena Louis Tells Solo Attorneys That Taking A Vacation Is Certainly Not Mission Impossible.
Last week I wrote about the struggle to stay productive during the summer months, when it feels like everyone else is on vacation while you are constantly chained to your desk. What happens when you actually break the chains and decide to go on vacation? A little background: The three most important things in my life, in this exact order, are:
- My family (Yes. This does include my dog!);
- My business (which seems like an extension of number 1); and
For many solo attorneys, numbers 2 and 3 may seem diametrically opposed. I am here to tell you, that in my experience, you can have all three.
Solo Attorneys Can Travel Too!
While being a solo attorney may make travelling a little more complicated, it most certainly does not prohibit it. Just remember, on your first trip as a solo, you unintentionally pack your suitcase with baseless anxiety. I am not advocating to imitate European culture and go rogue for the entire month of August. I am advocating my belief that travelling is necessary. Your “trip” does not necessarily have to require round-trip airfare to a luxurious destination resort. No. Travel can be anything; especially a few days off during the week. Our client’s come to us for sanity and pragmatic advice. Even when you are building a practice, you need to recharge your batteries to provide both to the best of your ability.
With this in mind, here are 5 tips I have found that have helped me enjoy the fruits of my labor:
1. I Either Plan My Time Off Last Minute or Plan it in Advance
For the shorter trips, it was easy for me to look at my calendar to see when I had a block of days with no court appearances scheduled. Absent an emergency, it’s not likely that a court appearance would be scheduled in less than two weeks.
My longer trips (I have taken two, each about 9 days long) have been planned months in advance. Every judge I have encountered thus far will collaborate with the attorneys when setting court dates, so it’s not difficult to schedule around my vacations if I plan in advance.
2. I Always Have a Backup Attorney
I have two attorneys who would be willing to cover my client base if there was an emergency court appearance. I always let them know about my travel plans in advance and in exchange, I cover for them when necessary.
These relationships are extremely important to creating a successful practice. You have to do your best to set up contingency plans in the case of conflicts, unexpected familial occurrences or even strep throat.
In addition, I got all “lawyer like” and included a back-up attorney provision in my client retention agreement. It basically says that if I am sick, on vacation, or just plain unavailable, the client consents to a temporary substitute attorney. I make sure to tell every client about this provision in retainer signing meetings.
3. I Always Keep Duplicate Files in “The Cloud”
The way I organize my practice is extremely helpful in emergency situations. Like most attorneys, I realize that going paperless is aspirational at best. But, for every piece of paper in my office, I keep a secondary duplicate in a secure based cloud storage system.
First and foremost, this allows me to access any and all of my files where I have a secure Internet connection. This also means that I can also send a file to anyone, anywhere at any time. This has come in handy when I needed to provide a substitute attorney important documents while I was at my parents’ house in Ohio.
4. I Always Keep the Client Informed
Before leaving for any duration of time, I let my clients know I will be on vacation and that I have attorneys to cover in an emergency. I never give them the attorneys direct contact information.
In my experience, family law clients tend to have emergencies that are not necessarily legal emergencies, but they just want to talk to a lawyer to assuage their fears.
I let my clients know that I can be reached by email for emergencies and I will contact the other attorney if necessary. I also try to meet with the clients who are likely to have issues before I leave, to deal with any immediate issues that I can foresee.
5. I Stay “Relatively” Reachable
While I try to stay as disconnected as possible on vacation, I make sure to never truly disconnect.
Once a day, I quickly scan my emails. I have implemented an email filter that highlights emails from my former and current clients. In addition, I have set my phone system to email me messages that are left on my business line. It tells me the name of the client and the phone number and then provides a .wav file of the message.
I will only respond to it if it’s truly an emergency, the rest have to wait until I return.
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Joleena Louis is a matrimonial and family law attorney at Joleena Louis Law, a ﬁrm she founded after leaving a boutique matrimonial ﬁrm in Brooklyn. Joleena is a client in Law Firm Suites’ start-up program in Downtown, New York. Her weekly blog series Things I Wish I Knew… explores her thought process and experiences in her transition from small law ﬁrm employee to successful solo practice entrepreneur.