I’ve made a mistake. A mistake that I know I should not make, I never intended to make, and I swore I would never make, but I did: the summer is over, and I didn’t take nearly enough time off.
I know there are more serious mistakes for a lawyer to make (the Law Society isn’t knocking on my door, demanding the revocation of my licence to practice law), however, this seemingly small mistake is having repercussions – a rippling effect - on my job and life.
How I Messed Up
I had the best of intentions to unplug this summer. In the past, I would work extra long days on Monday to Thursday so I could take Fridays off in July and August and enjoy the warm weather. This year I found myself saying, “Sure I can schedule that call/meeting on Friday, no problem”. Or, thinking to myself, “I’ll just pop into the office Friday morning and take the afternoon off”, only to look up and see that it was 6pm.
No worries, I thought, there’s plenty of summer left.
In July we loaded our three kids into the car and drove to remote Maine for a relaxing seven-day long vacation (I know, I know, “relaxing vacation” and “three kids” don’t normally go together). On our arrival, I found it so peaceful…almost too peaceful. My phone was not making any noises. I wasn’t receiving any emails. I mean none. No OBA emails. No Law Society emails. No “Let me do an SEO audit on your website” emails. What was going on?!
I looked at the service bars on my phone…. ack…. No cell phone reception! This might sound ideal to some, but as a sole practitioner and sole owner of a business (Flex Legal), and usually the first point of client contact, I started to panic. I quickly logged on to the WiFi at the rental home and sure enough - “ding, ding, ding” - the emails started rolling in. And, of course, something was up with one of our clients. There was a miscommunication between the lawyer client and a freelance lawyer. Both were looking to me to assist. By the time the issue was resolved it was three days into my vacation. On the seventh day I was finally starting to unwind, and . . . it was time to go home.
But, no worries, there was still plenty of summer left, it was only August.
On my return to the office I did not feel relaxed. I did not feel rejuvenated. I felt lethargic. I would go to the office with a long to-do list and I would barely get through a few items. Normally I am energised to get to the office in the morning, but 8 hours would go by and I wondered, what did I do all day? Anything? Instead of recognizing that I needed a break, I pushed through, I stayed at my computer all day, everyday. I didn’t get anything done, I told myself, how could I justify taking a day, or days off, now?!
And then August was over.(*)
We are now well into September (almost October!) which happens to be my busiest time of year. There is always an uptick in business for Flex in the fall and I teach at the University of Toronto. My calendar is full of conferences, networking events, volunteer meetings. My window of opportunity to take a proper break is closing.
Take That Vacation, it will Make you a Better Lawyer!
I’m not giving you any earth-shattering information. We all know that taking a real vacation makes us less stressed, more focused, and in return, better lawyers, better employees, and better bosses. Even though I love my job, I still need a break from it. I need to unplug and unwind. I need to think about something other than the law. When I do, I return to my practice with more energy and commitment.
When I worked for someone else, I always took all my allotted vacation. I felt I was working hard and I rightly deserved the time off. Now that I have my own practice and business and can, in theory, take as much vacation time that I want, I take even less. I need to change that.
So, here is what I have learned, and what may help to ensure that you and I take our important vacations:
p.s. VACATION ALERT: I will be out of the office starting on July 6, 2020 and will return to the office on July 27, 2020. I will not be checking email during that time 😊.
(*) I did convince myself to sneak off to an afternoon ball game one day in August (photo below), which was quite lovely, but it was not an uninterrupted break. Next time I will leave my phone at home!
Photo by chen zo on Unsplash
Erin C. Cowling is a freelance litigator, researcher & writer at Cowling Legal Freelance and President and Founder of Flex Legal Network Inc., a network of freelance lawyers.