by Daniel DeWoskin
As attorneys, we have one of the most difficult jobs to simply duck out for a spontaneous three-day weekend getaway. Notice that we aren’t even allowed to call it a vacation. Such time away from one’s legal practice is referred to as a “leave of absence,” which immediately has a negative connotation; a feeling of abandoning the courts, the clients, the job.
Uniform Superior Court Rule 16.1 ensures that we will promptly put together the multitude of letters and notices to clerks, opposing counsel, and judges to appropriately inform everyone of our leave of absence in plenty of time for them to object. Fortunately, most of us do not find ourselves in the position of having to deal with unreasonable objections. It is still quite an ordeal just to know that you will not find yourself paying airlines’ exorbitant flight change fees or forfeiting some vacation deposit because you did not realize how a case that has been ongoing for the past five years suddenly has to get tried during the week you intended to test out a new system at the tables in Vegas.
Regardless of whether or not we are ultimately permitted our leave, it is a monumental pain in the rear end, at least as far as I am concerned. I understand why the rules are as they are, but I am not the person who can plan out the vacation schedule for the entire year in advance. Sure, I don’t worry so much about the Jewish holidays, but how do I look at a calendar on January 1 and decide that June 22 would be a good date for a short getaway with my wife?
Actually, if you ask my wife, she’ll tell you I’m terrible about taking vacations to begin with and that I would be just as happy to sit around my house in my underwear and watch movies. I imagine this part of the process gets easier to plan when kids are in school and the school schedule begins to dictate the best times to spend money in Orlando.
I am always surprised when I receive another attorney’s leave notice and it has eight or nine different periods that they intend to take off. The capacity that these individuals have for personal planning is nothing short of astonishing. I can plan when it comes to litigation, discovery, and general practice management. When it comes to my personal life, I’ll figure out what I’m doing on Friday night sometime late Friday afternoon (most likely by asking my wife on my way home from work). And as for continuing education, I generally attend far more than is required, but I don’t plan to go to them much more than a month out.
January presented all of us with an unusual gift. Our unexpected snow and ice storm that shut everything down brought with it a mandatory vacation at home where I played master of ceremonies to my two-and-a-half-year-old son and my 10-month-old daughter. We colored, we read stories, we sang and danced, and we had one hell of a good time day after day. I ate far too much and grilled more red meat than I would want my doctor to know about. When the sun went down, my wife and I opened a bottle of wine and really just enjoyed not having to be anywhere the next day, or even being able to get there if there was someplace we had to be. Okay, maybe I wasn’t really waiting for the sun to go down and maybe it was more than one bottle of wine, but you get the point.
I grew a little more apprehensive as the week progressed, not so much out of stir craziness as out of the sense that others were going back to work despite the hazardous road conditions. In the end, I survived my uneasiness and really took advantage of the break. This was a week when no court would call my office and ask where I was or when it should expect me to pop in. No conflict letters needed. It was like the world stopped for a few days and it was quite refreshing.
I monitored all the listserves I’m privy to in order that I might see and hear if people were managing to get out and if I might safely have made it to my office so as not to lose valuable work time. Still, as I started to get dressed to go to work on Thursday or Friday, I thought about how I wouldn’t dare put my kids in the carseat to take them for a drive, so it did not make much sense for me to take an unnecessary risk. I also thought about how angry I would be if I bent one of my axles trying to go to the office to open mail that had not even come that week. Where was I in a hurry to go?
Although I have the tendency for being a workaholic, I am very good about devoting time for my family. I’m tethered to my phone and email and I don’t sleep soundly for the perpetual thoughts about each of my cases. I don’t foresee this condition changing as long as I continue to be a trial attorney. In February, I will take a trip with my wife, our first vacation in over two years. We take a day off here and there, but we certainly haven’t gone anywhere or done what most people would call a real vacation in quite some time.
When we planned the trip over six months ago, I got all my leave notices out for the applicable dates. I made sure to continue to file these notices as new cases came in, and then we have our snowstorm. So, as any experienced lawyer would predict, every court appearance that was scheduled for the week we had the storm gets shifted and rescheduled to one of the five days that I have planned to be somewhere with my wife, someplace with beautiful weather and umbrellas in all the drinks.
I have been managing to reschedule these appearances, but this brings me back to the original point. Truly, one of the most significant challenges we face as attorneys is taking some leisure time without the paranoia that the world will fall apart if we are out of touch with the office for a few days.
I know the world will not collapse in on itself if I duck out for a break (provided I have filed leaves, have someone to manage my clients, and made provisions for colleagues to stand in if somehow something fell through the cracks). Professionally speaking, I am far less important to the world than I give myself credit for. That being said, I’m kidding myself if I think that the first two days of my vacation will be free of my unreasonable panic. Luckily, I will have scarce access to email and phones, and my wife will likely be pushing fruity umbrella drinks and activities such that I am thoroughly distracted.
Taking some time away from work is a giant hassle, but it is necessary. We lead stressful lives and have to decompress for our health and sanity. I can appreciate that and I’ll jump through all the hoops to make it happen. I’ll deal with the headaches on the back end when I return, the countless phone calls, the thousands of emails to review, and the stress of catching up. In the end, it just goes with the territory that for attorneys far more work is required to go on vacation than to simply not go on vacation.