Personal Time Off

Members of the legal profession aren’t known for their willingness to take time off. While around 40% of lawyers have unlimited PTO, and the average associate has about 20 days of PTO, only 31% use all their vacation days. And those “days off” likely still find lawyers tethered to their smartphones or laptops.

Enter COVID-19. With travel restrictions and quarantine orders in place, professionals in all arenas ceased to find value in taking a vacation. Nearly all Americans (92%) cancelled, postponed or entirely skipped booking a vacation in 2020 due to the pandemic, instead working an additional hour per day on average.

Those numbers add up to a legal workforce that’s even more stressed and over-worked than usual — and burning out at a rapid rate. Half of respondents to Bloomberg Law’s Attorney Workload and Hours Survey said they experienced burnout in Q1 of 2021. The average time they took off to rest and recharge during that period? Three days.

To sustain a healthier lifestyle and practice, attorneys must use their PTO for its intended purpose. Here’s how to create your own roadmap for effective time off that boosts your mental health — and ability to serve your clients — in the long term.

Adopt a non-negotiable mindset for your mental health as an attorney.

Sometimes it may feel easier to put your head down and plow through your caseload and email inbox without taking a break. But working through the weekend can quickly turn into working through the month, and then the year, if you’re not careful.

The effects of nonstop practicing trickle down to your clients. Even if your clients retain your services for a happy reason, like buying a home or adopting a child, it’s still an extraordinary, stressful moment in their lives. They need their attorney to be a rock — a steady source of expertise and support.

It’s tough to provide that assurance when your mental and emotional reserves are depleted. Nearly half (48%) of attorneys in the Bloomberg Law survey reported trouble focusing on work tasks in Q1.

Action item: Think about the client whose success affected you most personally. Think about the relationship you would have wanted if the situation were reversed — would you want your attorney to be sharp and ready to offer emotional as well as legal support? This exercise helps you reflect on the why behind your own PTO.

Set yourself up for successful relaxation. It’s important for lawyers.

It’s also important to consider the “why not” behind your vacation time. Beyond pre-scheduled court dates, many attorneys fear the needs of both their clients and firm will go unmet if they’re away for even a day.

Thankfully, the same technology that helps you complete daily work keeps everything on track when you’re out of the office. By relying on a single source of truth for your firm, every member of your legal team can access your case files and billing with a few clicks. When it’s time to build an out-of-office plan, use Smokeball Workflows to assign tasks to your colleagues, attach relevant information and set deadlines.

Action item: Your clients can also enjoy the same level of communication with your firm while you’re on PTO. Just change the settings in your Smokeball Communicate app to redirect to your colleagues, and they’ll gain the immediate ability to chat, call and email with your clients — and see your historical correspondence. Clients can rest assured your colleagues fully understand their needs.

Planning out your days off – yes, lawyers deserve them too!

Everything is prepared for your PTO — but you don’t feel comfortable going on a big trip. While the limitations of COVID-19 on vacations can be disappointing, remember that the most important outcome is returning to work refreshed and relaxed, no matter how you use those days.

Allow yourself some activities you normally would consider an indulgence, from passing an afternoon on the couch watching movies to baking a favorite treat. Take an extended walk around your city or a forest preserve, paying close attention to the details you’d normally overlook. Or spend time volunteering and reconnecting with your community — after all, they’re the very people your practice supports.

Action item: Feel better with a goal in mind? Set an intention for your PTO. Maybe you want to step away from all electronics for a few days, try a new hobby with your kids or finish reading the novel next to your bed.