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What would you do if you had three months off with full pay? Rent a villa in Italy, bicycle around Washington State’s San Juan Islands, or read a stack of books on your deck? That’s the torturous decision that Holland & Hart’s partners must make every five years when it comes time to take their sabbaticals. Managing partner and chief financial officer Edward Flitton III has spent his last three sabbaticals in Italy, renting homes in Perugia, Venice, and Lucca. For his sabbatical next year, Aspen-based Arthur “Boots” Ferguson Jr. plans to return to Bolivia and tackle his goal of climbing to the summit of all the peaks in the Andes that are higher than 20,000 feet. (There are about a dozen.) Many partners rave about the simple joys of staying home. “You get a chance to have a cup of coffee and read the paper,” says Cheyenne, Wyo.-based Jack Palma, who has also rented an apartment in Paris. “That’s really as much a luxury as exotic trips.” At any point during the course of a year, roughly 20 percent of the firm’s partners are off on a three-month sojourn. One benefit of the sabbatical program, which began about 15 years ago, is that it forces lawyers to introduce their clients to colleagues, especially to the firm’s younger lawyers. Boulder, Colo., partner Scott Havlick says it can be “frightening as hell” to hand off your clients to others. “There’s a little bird on your shoulder that says, ‘What if my clients like them more than me?’ ” he admits. “ When you get back, you find out a few clients did hit it off better with the associates. That’s great.” Work can get in the way. Peter Houtsma, who heads the firm’s litigation department, postponed his sabbatical for 15 years because of a demanding schedule. When he finally cleared his desk, he took a year off at half-pay (which the firm’s partnership agreement allows). He used part of that time to explore unfamiliar territory — the European tour of the rock group U2, which he attended with two of his sons. (This was his sons’ idea.) A now-retired partner, Bruce Buell, took an altruistic approach to his break, spending the time drawing up wills for low-income senior citizens. One reason the program works so well is that there’s no stigma attached to taking a sabbatical. “The vast majority of partners take advantage of the program,” says partner Anne Castle, who started her third sabbatical this summer. “If all your partners are taking this time, you’re crazy if you don’t.”

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