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Paradise City, Margaritaville, Kokomo: Real estate may be all about location, location, location, but as Guns and Roses, Jimmy Buffet and the Beach Boys would undoubtedly agree, the perfect vacation is about so much more. Each year around this time, with Christmas holidays right around the corner, I find myself devoting considerable thought to planning the perfect vacation. Considerably more than in I did during my days in academia, when vacation time seemed endless and, if a really good opportunity presented itself during the school year, missed classes could always be compensated with a redoubling of efforts before exam time. Naturally, the reason for this sea change is not difficult to discern. As any good environmental lawyer knows, finite resources are more valuable than those that are not. Although I do not meticulously track of the number of days of vacation I use throughout the year (as do the majority of my non-lawyer friends), working off a minimum billable year sets up an inherently self-regulating system. Thus, while the clich� – when you’re a student you have the time, but not the money; when you’re working you have the money, but not the time – may overstate the issue somewhat, I am certainly less likely to squander my vacation time now that I am gainfully employed. Indeed, I suspect our summer associate class was weary of hearing me discuss the numerous reasons to embark upon extended foreign travel after the bar exam and before starting work. While I certainly do not yearn for the days of my prior employment where one day of vacation was earned for every two and a half weeks worked and choice vacation was awarded based on seniority, a self-regulating system is not without its drawbacks. Associates – particularly the new ones – routinely grapple with the who, what and when of taking vacation. Who are they supposed to tell that they’re planning to be away? What should they say? When should they tell them? Like most things, the first attempt at planning a self-regulated vacation is usually the most anxiety-ridden. More than once in the past few weeks I have heard new associates seeking advice on this issue from more senior associates. As far as I can tell, the advice has been substantially the same as that which I received three years ago. Plan on taking a vacation in December, so you’ll be refreshed for the new year. Everyone will be on vacation around that time anyhow, including the clients. Just let the partners you work for know of your plans a few weeks in advance and remind them closer to the time of the dates when you’ll actually be away. However, one need look no further than those firms where associates bill an average of 2400 hours a year (or more) to hear true tales of vacation anxiety. Although not many of my classmates decided to take the plunge into such cultures, one who did recently relayed the type of vacation advice that is given to younger associates at his New York firm. Never include the weekends that you’ll be away on vacation, so it will appear that you’re gone for a shorter period of time. Tell them you’re leaving one day earlier or later than you actually are and just check your blackberry and voicemail every half hour. Always take an afternoon flight so you can come into the office in the morning and then don’t count that day when you tell them how long you’ll be gone. Although my friend’s tales were likely meant to amuse those at the dinner table, I didn’t find them terribly funny. One has only to take a vacation to realize that the rejuvenating effects are, as the MasterCard commercial would say, priceless. Although I realize that large U.S. law firms are unlikely to adopt the European concept of six weeks paid vacation annually, reducing vacation anxiety among associates would seem to be a realistic goal. After all, associates are going to take vacation time regardless. Those that have been able to relax and truly enjoy their vacations, however, will undoubtedly be of more value to the firm upon their return. Amy J. McMaster is an associate in the environmental department at Venable LLP in Washington. Her practice focuses on both criminal defense and civil regulatory compliance.

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