Yes, you can and should take a vacation from your law practice and your clients. You need the balance to recharge for your professional and personal well-being. If you are solo, taking a vacation may seem impossible. Here are some tips for organizing your practice so that you can get away from the office for quality time whether you can afford to go far away or just spend time at the park with your family. Having an organized practice enables you to have the peace of mind to do either.
Anyone who is in a client-service business knows that they need to have a plan in place to ensure their clients will be taken care of no matter what happens to the service provider. Doctors and dentists routinely arrange for another doctor to be available to take emergency calls. Lawyers are no different. As a lawyer, you have an ethical obligation to protect your client’s interests in the event of your death, disability, impairment, or incapacity – just taking a vacation shouldn’t be a problem if you’ve given consideration to protecting your clients during an emergency. Many of the considerations will be the same if only for a shorter time span.
Your retainer agreement or engagement letter should provide your clients with information about your plan to have another attorney assist you in the event of an emergency. Your client’s signature on the retainer agreement provides written authorization for the assisting attorney to be provided with access to the client’s name and file to proceed on the client’s behalf. If you do not have this in place, you will need to send an authorization letter to your clients letting them know that you are making arrangements to protect their interests during your absence, securing their consent to disclose their name and make their file available to an assisting attorney in the event of an emergency. Hopefully, your vacation is a safe respite and doesn’t result in any emergencies.
Do you hold any of your clients’ money in your Lawyer Trust Account? Have you made provisions for an emergency authorized signer on your Lawyer Trust Account? If not, there is a serious problem if you are critically injured to point of incapacity or death: who has the authority to sign Trust account checks of reimbursement to your clients? Will there need to be a court protective order to give a conservator the authority or a probate to get a personal representative appointed? Avoid the drama of the delay. Plan now or your clients’ money can be tied up in your Trust Account. Prepare for the unexpected and vacation easy.
Here is a Checklist for Going on Vacation:
- Generate a Work-in-Process list indicating status of open files, include deadlines and current contact information for each current client along with respective opposing counsel and courts that you make available to your assisting attorney(s). Annotate who you will cover these cases.
- Locate a colleague who your clients could contact if an emergency came up during your absence. You may need different colleagues for different practice areas. Prepare an assisting attorney agreement or authorization granting authority to your colleague.
- Let your current clients with open matters know you will be on vacation and who they can contact in an emergency or if they have an urgent question during your absence. If an authorization for an assisting attorney isn’t already in place, send an authorization letter to your clients letting them know you are making arrangements to protect their interests during your absence, securing their consent to disclose their name and make their file available to an assisting attorney in the event of an emergency.
- Let your opposing parties and courts know that you will be away and have made provisions for another attorney to act on your clients’ behalf in your absence.
- If you are holding any of your clients’ money in your Lawyer Trust Account, arrange for an emergency signer on the account to get your clients reimbursed their money held in your Trust Account should it become necessary.
- Prepare an automatic email message alerting the sender you are out of the office and will not be reading or responding to messages until you return and providing emergency contact information while you are unavailable. Select ‘Out of Office Assistant’ on the Tool menu in Microsoft Outlook. Prepare a suitable telephone answering message.
- Prepare a three-month docket list of court appearances, deadlines, and follow-up dates that you make available to your assisting attorney(s).
- Make sure that your time and billing records are up-to-date. Provide your clients with an invoice for work performed and itemized accounting of money held on their behalf in your Lawyer Trust Account. Get those bills out!.
- Prepare a list of where open and closed files are kept and the location of keys to filing cabinets and storage facilities that you make available to your assisting attorney(s).
- Prepare a list of all necessary passwords and logins including voice mail, computer login in, email access, and computer passwords along with the names of the programs for which they are used that you make available to your assisting attorney(s). Some attorneys change all passwords to a special vacation password and provide this to their special vacation coverage assisting attorney(s) during a vacation period.
- Prepare a list of important firm contacts such as any current employees along with their emergency contact information, your building’s property manager or landlord and your firm’s service providers and vendors. See the “Law Office List of Contacts,” Practice Aid from the Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund.
Further Resources for Planning for Practice Emergencies.
- Contact your state bar association’s practice management advisor for help. See the ABA Law Practice Management Section’s listing of Practice Management Advisors by State at http://tinyurl.com/fx5v6
- “Being Prepared: A Lawyer’s Guide for Dealing with Disability or Unexpected Events” by Lloyd D. Cohen and Debra Hart Cohen from the ABA, $104.95.
- “Planning Ahead: A Guide to Protecting Your Clients’ Interests in the Event of Your Disability or Death” from the Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund free to any Oregon lawyer and for $15 for out-of-state lawyers.
- “Law Office List of Contacts,” Practice Aid from the Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund. (Attached).