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It is a fact of law firm life that one’s worth as a lawyer, and as a person, is measured not by competence or character but rather by the number of billable hours that one is able to log. Lawyering skills are simply too subjective to accurately measure an individual’s value to The Firm. In today’s legal market, what really matters is the bottom line, and a lawyer’s bottom line is made up of billable hours. Working in this environment, lawyers do all they can to avoid nonbillable activities. Social events — unless they include potential new clients — are irrelevant and to be avoided. Time spent enjoying life is time that could be better spent billing. Sure, you may not have seen your significant other in weeks, missed your child’s birth, your husband’s surgery and your own birthday party, but these disappointments are more than outweighed by winning The Firm’s Billable Hour Derby. Besides, you can always find a new spouse and have more kids. You may, however, never have the chance to be The Firm’s top biller again. Despite all this, and contrary to popular opinion, lawyers are human beings. They have certain obligations on the outside that can take them away from The Firm and their time sheets. Even if you are a lawyer who enjoys a reputation as the Cal Ripken Jr. of the legal profession, sooner or later you may have no choice but to take a day off, or, if I dare use the word, a vacation. Taking a vacation from the law puts law firm associates in a difficult position because partners frown on any associate activity that does not directly benefit them financially. Typical responses to the news of an associate vacation include: “What am I supposed to do if the client calls with a question while you are away?” or “You’re taking a vacation when I haven’t missed a day of work since 1979?” or “Didn’t you just take a vacation a few years ago to study for the bar exam?” This said, partners then attempt to persuade their associates to postpone the vacation to a more convenient time — such as next summer. Fortunately, even after the decision to take a vacation has been made, there are ways to avoid the adverse consequences of being away from the place you really feel content — your desk. Partners do not even need to be informed of your absence, and the time you are forced to spend on vacation can be used to score points for your career. To achieve this result, simply plan to include the following activities as part of your next “getaway”: 1. Before leaving town, bring a few extra suit coats to the office. Instruct your secretary to hang a different coat on your office door each day. Also make sure your secretary places the current issue of the newspaper opened on your desk next to a fresh cup of hot coffee. Anyone stopping by your office to find you will assume you just stepped away for a moment. 2. Tell a few of the people who tend to spread rumors around the office that you’ll be “in trial” or “at a closing” all week. These few simple words can work wonders as explanations as to why no one has seen or talked to you in days. Since you are lying anyway, you might as well make it really good. Tip: Spread word around the office that you are trying a landmark case and plan your vacation at a time of year when the U.S. Supreme Court is in session. 3. Leave boxes of “No-Doz,” pizza cartons, cans of Diet Coke and other remains from a late-night meal lying around your office. Moldy pizza remains should be removed as this will tip people off that you’ve been away for a long period of time. 4. Hire someone to sit in your office all day pretending to be a client. Whenever a law firm colleague stops by looking for you, have the “client” say you just went to make a copy and will be back shortly. Law students unable to find summer employment are readily available for this job and at a very reasonable price. 5. If your firm has a public address system, call in from your vacation locale every few hours and have yourself paged. 6. Leave the computer on, the dictaphone off the hook, the “hold” button on your telephone blinking. 7. Finally, and best of all, convince a client you need to have a meeting or file a motion at your vacation destination. This may prove difficult, however, in certain resort locations short on courthouses and law firms. This is nevertheless worth trying because you can not only bill for your vacation time but also submit expense reimbursements for your travel expenses. The best thing you can do is take a laptop computer, modem and cell phone with you and produce documents during the entire vacation. Not only will this help with the legal work withdrawals you may suffer while away from the office, it will also keep your billable hour tallies high and no one will notice you were away. Bon voyage! The Rodent is a syndicated columnist and author of “Explaining the Inexplicable: The Rodent’s Guide to Lawyers.” His e-mail address is [email protected]

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