Monday, October 1, 2012

Time Off

Lawyers are typically very driven people.  We compete with each other over who works the hardest.  We measure our worth by the number of productive hours we put in each year.  So when it comes to taking time off, we are reluctant participants to say the least.  We say we go in house for the "balance", but anyone who has spent any time in house knows that's a myth.  You trade billable hours for quarter and year end.  You work just as much, you just don't get the same recognition for it - which generally makes us work more.  We just get a bit more control over our schedules so we can make it to soccer practice or choir concerts and still get the job done.

In house lawyers are constantly proving their value to the company.  It's not easy being a cost center.  So we become paranoid about perceptions.  And let's be clear, the perception of not working hard or being "under assigned" can undermine your entire standing within the organization.  In house lawyers are typically among the highest paid employees at a company.  The people working with you have to think that you're earning that privilege or they'll make life very difficult for you.  Combine the need to control perceptions with a lawyers natural proclivity towards grinding out work and you can go years without truly having a day off.

Don't get me wrong, we go on 'vacations' and take 'sick days'.  Those days we only work a couple of hours.  We may not do more than answer emails on the weekends.  But we rarely turn it all off completely.  I worked in the recovery room after having 2 of my kids.  As soon as the drugs wore off enough I was on my smart phone answering emails and setting up meetings.  No one asked me to.  No one really expected me to, but I did because that what lawyers do.

Last week I got sick with strep throat (for the second time in a month!), and my first thought wasn't about getting better - it was about how much work I have on my desk.  So, I fired off an email to my boss and let him know I was going to work from home to spare the office my germs.  His response was no.  Don't work, take a sick day.  Focus on getting better.  I'll be honest, at first I was annoyed.  I have too much work to do to ignore it until Monday.  We've talked about how behind I am on certain things.  So, why would he even suggest that I take a day off?  Then my husband reminded me that I'm just a lawyer.  A corporate one at that.  No one will die if I let those contracts sit until Monday.  No one will go to jail and the company won't lose millions of dollars.  No one will really miss me if I take just one day off.  He's right, they both are.  I needed to actually rest and let my body heal itself.  I needed to take the day completely off.  So I reluctantly agreed.  (And I only answered a few emails so it almost does count as a day completely off.)

With the holidays coming up, we need to remind ourselves that we're really not that important.  And even if we are, no one blames us for taking some time off to achieve that "balance" that everyone talks about.  So plan it now, make sure you've covered your bases and then take a real vacation.  Maybe even go somewhere that your smart phone won't work.  You'll come back refreshed and with enough energy to tackle those projects that you're months behind on.  

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