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Are you one of those solo or small-firm practitioners who is bemoaning the fact that you haven’t taken a vacation because you felt you couldn’t possibly leave the office? While leaving the office far behind is bliss for some attorneys, others find vacation time riddled with stress. For solos, who often need every client that walks through the door and who toil without a partner or an associate, locking up shop can be a traumatic event. Not willing to lose money or possibly a client, many younger solos report that they do not take vacations, opting instead for the occasional long weekend. But experienced lawyers who have learned how to balance their careers with their need for down time agree that with early planning and modern technology, even solos can get away. Plan a vacation months in advance, say solos interviewed for this story. Block out the dates on the calendar well in advance and let the judge, adversary and client know your intentions. They also advise buying plane tickets right away to lock yourself into your plans. One attorney, who makes a practice of marking her intended vacation dates months ahead, says writing it down helps her keep those days free when a judge or an adversary push her to make a court date. And, she says, it reminds her not to schedule client meetings on any of those dates. But even if an attorney has cleared off her calendar, emergencies can arise. “Anticipate what might come up and arrange for back-up,” suggests Daniel P. Levitt, a commercial litigator in New York. Levitt, who shares his office suite with two other lawyers, says he designates one of those attorneys as a back-up. But if another attorney cannot step in, a paralegal or a competent secretary can handle the job. Most of the responsibilities of a back-up person involve staffing the phone and faxing the right documents to the attorney on vacation. When the vacation finally arrives, do not feel you must spend the entire time working, attorneys warn. With technology at our fingertips, it can be too easy to stay in touch with the office. STAY IN TOUCH To keep a vacation from turning into a whirlwind of returning calls and reading documents, an attorney should never circulate the phone number of the vacation getaway to clients and opposing counsel. Clients and others should call the office and leave a message with a secretary or on voicemail. In an emergency, the secretary can reach the attorney at the vacation spot. Otherwise, attorneys can check their messages and faxes at the end of each day. Judith Flamenbaum, a solo in Manhattan who practices family law, says at the end of each vacation day, her secretary faxes that day’s correspondence and a log of phone messages. Michael J. Franco, a tax attorney without a full-time secretary, says while on vacation he checks his voicemail every day and returns all calls. Cell phones make calling easy, at least in the United States. Check with your service provider to see if there is service from a foreign country. According to Levitt, with a laptop computer and Internet access at all major airports and hotels, a lawyer “can’t escape receiving or sending e-mail or e-mail attachments.” But resist the temptation to check your e-mail as often as you would from your office. The best time for litigators to take vacation is over Christmas and New Year’s. But for a real estate attorney, the end of the year can be the worst time, since lawyers usually need to work overtime to assist clients scrambling to close deals by the new year. Some practices, particularly family law practices, are busy all year round, says Flamenbaum. And holiday seasons can be the busiest of all, because that is when courts see an increase in domestic violence, she says.

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