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A recent news story reported that a major law firm is limiting the conditions under which associates may take vacations. Some predict that this is becoming a trend and, if so, it will make it even harder for lawyers to have a life outside The Firm. Even though the law is our life, there are things that go on outside The Firm that need our attention. As a result, we need more than just a vacation. We sometimes need to escape The Firm and tend to these things that won’t wait until nine o’clock at night or until Sunday when The Firm’s gates are open and lawyers walk free. Escaping from The Firm, however, is never easy. Some lawyers, mostly inexperienced first-years, try the approach of simply asking for the time off or announcing that they will be out of the office. They have yet to learn that partners are generally unreceptive to hearing that you’d like to take the afternoon off because a relative is visiting from out of town or because of the pressure of your job you’re experiencing severe chest pains and need to see a specialist. They’ve heard it all before and you might as well keep your lame excuses (and your heart condition) to yourself. While it is hard for lawyers to get out of the office, it is not impossible. Your escape from The Firm, however, must be carefully planned. You can’t simply walk out in the middle of the day. People, important people, people who can fire you, will see. But, you might be saying to yourself out loud while reading this column, how will these people know that I’m not simply going downstairs for lunch or leaving the building to meet with a client? The answer is that they will know because it will be written all over you. The expression on your face, the way you walk, the way you anxiously wait for the elevator to arrive — all these things will give you away. Despite my warnings, a fellow associate I know was sure he could just walk out of the office in the middle of the afternoon and go to the airport to pick up his sister, whom he hadn’t seen in over a year. “How will anyone know that I’m not just going to the law library?” my colleague asked, confident that he could get over the wall. Well, they did. Although my friend had successfully left the office without being discovered, when he exited the elevator on the ground floor he ran into the partner who heads his department at The Firm. The partner asked the associate where he was going. The associate panicked and blurted out that he was on his way to argue a motion in court. The problem, however, was that my friend is a securities attorney who never goes to court. Another escape foiled! If you are going to make a break, you have to do so clandestinely. I learned this very early in my legal career. The first law firm I worked for had adjacent to the lobby a fish bowllike conference room with a glass wall that enabled anyone sitting there to see through to the lobby and the elevators. As luck would have it, I needed to flee The Firm at the exact time of the weekly partners’ meeting held in the same conference room. Seeing what I was up against, I developed the following escape plan: 1. I brought an extra coat to the office and hung it on the door. 2. I paid a paralegal to sit in my office and instructed her to say, “He’ll be back in a few minutes” whenever anyone stopped by to see me or phoned my extension. 3. I located an escape route. The stairs were out because the doors to the other floors were locked, and the ground floor exit sounded the fire alarm. Because the office was located on the 32nd floor, digging a tunnel to freedom did not seem practicable. That left just one way out — the freight elevator. The freight elevator was located just outside the bathroom. I pushed the elevator button, went inside the restroom and began washing my hands while carefully listening for the elevator bell to ring. Having calculated the time to the exact second during earlier trial runs, I counted: 1,001; 1,002; 1,003; 1,004; 1,005. I then bolted from the bathroom and jumped in the elevator just as the doors closed behind me. Perfect timing. Then I had a big surprise. Standing there in the elevator next to me was a senior associate from my firm who worked on the floor above me. Her water had just broken, and she was on her way to the hospital. We made a pact not to turn each other in. 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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