With the countdown to Christmas well underway, many lawyers are starting to contemplate a much-needed break. However, multiple pressures can conspire to keep the legal profession working through holiday periods.
“It’s all very well to say that Australia shuts down for the summer holidays,” said Stuart Clark, Managing Partner of Clayton Utz’s Litigation and Dispute Resolution practice group, to Lawyers Weekly. “The fact of the matter is that a firm like Clayton Utz is acting for clients all around the world. And in many parts of the world, for example Europe and the United States, everything is back to business the week after Christmas and things are functioning normally.”
Practising law on a global scale while constantly connected via smart phones and emails can place intense external pressures on lawyers. Compounding the issue is the unpredictability of client needs, especially in deadline-driven areas like litigation, which can leave lawyers cancelling leave or failing to plan for a break in the first place.
So what are some practical steps to ensure you can take a break while keeping your clients, colleagues and managers happy?
Set the time aside now, and let your clients know
As a lawyer, it will never be a good time to go on holiday. Essential to ensuring you do go – and meaningfully disconnect – is letting your clients know of your out of office period with as much notice as possible. This may involve short reminders at the end of emails to clients letting them know when you will be away and who, if anyone, can be contacted for any urgent issues which may arise regarding their matter.
Check filing dates
Law is punctuated by perpetual deadlines – court filing dates, Statute of Limitations expiry dates, Federal Court time limits under the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) or notification periods for advising parties. Check these dates as early as you can, and where possible, plan your holiday around these dates or delegate the work.
Establish procedures for sensitive client matters
Client confidentiality will mean that certain specific issues cannot be delegated to a paralegal or receptionist. For such matters, the Law Institute of Victoria’s 2012 President Michael Holcroft suggested setting up a telephone answering service to direct sensitive matters directly to you.
Keep to a consistent email policy
When you are away, be consistent in how you respond to emails. If clients are met with an out-of-office notification informing them you will be away for two weeks, emailing a response fifteen minutes later sends a conflicting message.
Some suggest setting aside 30 minutes a day to check and respond to urgent emails. Others recommend committing to the out of office message and responding upon return. Striking a balance between genuinely being on break and dousing office fires will not be easy, but doing so well is vital.
Go on holiday
All the preparation in the world will not anticipate every issue that may arise while you are away. Do what you can as best you can, and most importantly, take the break.