Personal Productivity for Lawyers
This quick-start guide to Getting Things Done and Inbox Zero also includes two shortcuts for those who want the benefits of GTD without having to learn the system.
In today’s technological wonderland it’s easy to work from anywhere. The bad thing is clients are increasingly expecting lawyers to work from anywhere.
In my opinion, the best solution is to compromise. Don’t ignore your practice while you are gone, but don’t immerse yourself either.
Business as Usual
For many attorneys, a vacation just means working from a different location. For example, if you run a solo practice, if you are a litigator, and/or if you have clients and cases the demand constant attention.
With a cloud service like Dropbox, you can access all of your files from anywhere. If you use a phone service like Google Voice, your business phone goes wherever you go. Although faxes are becoming extinct, an electronic fax service lets you send and receive faxes from anywhere.
In essence, the only thing you don’t have is access to your mail and a printer. If you work in federal court, however, everything is electronic and most attorneys that practice in federal court send everything (including letters) via e-mail or fax.
In other words: you can run your practice from faraway places. The kids can be at the beach, and you can file a motion to dismiss from the hotel. Of course, if you are working 24/7 during your vacation, that’s not much of a vacation. Fortunately, there is a compromise that should allow you to enjoy the majority of your vacation and stay on top of things at the office.
The Check In Method
This is my preferred method when I’m out of the office or on vacation. I’d love to tell you that I feel comfortable shutting off my phone and ignoring e-mail for a week. But my firm’s income is my household’s only source of income, so that’s just not happening.
What I typically do is turn my office phone to “do not disturb” in Google Voice. That means all calls go straight to voicemails (and the transcriptions are e-mailed to me immediately). If I’m gone for more than two days, I change my voicemail to say I’m out of the office and will have limited access to voicemail and e-mail until ________.
I don’t turn on an autoresponder for my e-mail, because I still check it a couple of times a day.
If it’s important, I can deal with it immediately. If not, I can ignore it until I get back, or at least until I am not sitting on the beach. After the kids go to bed (or are napping), I’ll turn on my computer and deal with my inbox.
Do I constantly think about work while on vacation? Yes. Would I think about it if I didn’t check my e-mail? Yes. To me, ignoring everything would be more stressful than checking in a few times a day.
Admittedly, I spend the two weeks prior to vacation dealing with everything possible and even telling opposing counsel I will be gone. That means that I rarely (if ever) have to deal with a massive issue while I am gone. By massive issue, I mean motion practice, hearings, etc.
For the most part, the check in method allows me to keep tabs on my practice and handle some client intake while I am gone. And when you run your own business, that is a good thing (in my humble opinion).
The Check Out Method
I look forward to the day/vacation where I can turn off everything and not worry about it. I can do that for a few days (like a weekend), but not during the business week.
I see a number of issues with completely checking out. One, even if you think you wrapped up everything before you left, you may have missed something. Maybe the court needs something. Maybe opposing counsel is taking advantage of your vacation and filing a motion. If you completely ignore everything, it could be a big problem. Of course, I suspect a court would be somewhat sympathetic to a solo practitioner taking a vacation. Somewhat, but not entirely.
Two, if you completely ignore your client intake for a week or more, I suspect those individuals will forever be potential clients, and never actual clients. Sure, some of them will wait for you. But in my practice, I am many times the legal equivalent of an ER doctor. My clients need legal assistance, and they need it quickly. If I cannot help them, they will find help elsewhere.
Three, I suspect that many people check out for part of their vacation, and then check in halfway through. Then they see an overflowing inbox, ten thousand things that need attention, and completely freak out. That’s why I prefer to keep tabs on things throughout the day—I’d rather spend an hour each day dealing with stuff as opposed to spending an entire day at the midpoint of my vacation.
I’m not the first lawyer to take family vacations—what works for you?
Originally published 2013-03-12. Republished 2016-09-02.