On Time Away From the Office By Robert E. Harrington
My partners and I have the good fortune to have decided several years ago to give each other an additional three weeks of vacation time every fifth year. Our "agreement" is that we will take the three weeks in one 21-day chunk and, perhaps, have the foresight to add another week of vacation and take a full month away from the practice of law. We affectionately call the time away our "vacatical." The idea is terrific - the execution is where the adventure can start.
It can hardly be debated that we all benefit from occasionally taking an extended, or relatively extended, break from law practice - indeed, taking a break from all of our professional commitments - and simply spending time alone or with our loved ones. Unfortunately, many of us are not "wired" to take time away.
My most recent "vacatical" is ending as I write this column. My wife and I were fortunate enough to be able to plan and take a two-week vacation in Spain. It was truly wonderful - what a vibrant, diverse and history-laden country, a citizenry with a remarkable knack for relaxing and maintaining a healthy, non-frenetic pace. But, if you followed the first two paragraphs of this column, you noticed the discrepancy between the three (to four) week time away and my two-week trip to Iberia. Many of us will recognize the answer to the riddle. I took the first of my three-weeks off as a "stay vacation": a worthy idea, but one far too susceptible of cheating. Around 4:30 on the afternoon of the first Monday of the stay vacation week of my break, one of my slightly younger colleagues told me - with force - to leave the office and turn off my iPhone. I did leave the office. The remainder of that week I spent basically at home, doing various professional tasks that "weren't too much trouble."
The iPhone part of my colleague's advice managed to get lost in the execution. It's amazing how interconnected our world is now. Other than time-zone issues, anyone who travels regularly realizes that PDAs can make long-distance communication just like being in the same city or - for that matter - the same office. The best e-mail I received (and read) while I was in Spain was from another colleague who began, "I hope you don't see this email until you return," and ended, "I hope you and Sharon are enjoying your time away."
In the end, none of this is a complaint, or even self-criticism (well, maybe, a little of the latter). For many (most?) of us it's simply a reflection of who we are. It's why we do what we do, and why we're good at it. When I was a second-year student in law school, the late Fifth Circuit Judge Alvin Rubin was the first to share with me the professional truism, "The law is a jealous mistress." Allowing for change reflecting the fortunately more gender neutral demographics of our profession, his words remain true. Indeed, PDAs and laptops have made it all-the-more compelling.
While we can and should continue to work on our "time away" skills, if we can manage to spend the "right-for-me" amount quality time away with our loved ones and enjoy and acknowledge the support and friendship of our colleagues, we have advanced the ball. After all, those of us with jobs from which to spend time away are truly fortunate. We have a great, if jealous, profession, and - as my trip reminded me - as pleasant as it was to visit abroad, we live in the greatest country in the world. It's good to be home, and it's good to be back at work.