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Lawyers often neglect to take time for themselves. And as big firms look for ways to boost associate satisfaction and address concerns over lawyer wellness, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe is trying a new approach: paying for them to take a vacation.  

In an email to its attorneys Thursday, Orrick chairman Mitch Zuklie announced that the firm would provide up to $15,000 to cover the costs of a week’s vacation for its attorneys in early 2019. The money is in addition to whatever the lawyers earn during their time off as regular vacation pay.

Dubbed “Unplug On Us,” the $15,000 is available to partnership track associates who have been with the firm for at least six months, are in good standing and have put in 2,400 annual client hours over the last year, which includes pro bono, training and innovation time. Paid vacations are also available to nonpartnership track associates, project attorneys and legal assistants who billed at a slightly lower level.  

“We’re really taking seriously this emphasis on wellness,” said Orrick’s chief talent officer Siobhan Handley.

The idea for the initiative came partly from Zuklie’s own early career experience, Handley said. His former firm pushed for its attorneys to take a vacation and made a contribution toward it, she said.

“We thought, why would we not try that?” Handley said. But Orrick didn’t just want to hand over additional cash to its attorneys. The firm wanted to incentivize them to actually take the time off, she said, by making the money available only for lawyers with specific vacation plans.

“It went beyond just giving people money because sometimes you don’t prioritize yourself and wellness and getting a break from work,” Handley said. “It’s why we went this route of vacation and paying for a vacation to really try to get people to take care of themselves.”

Big Law firms have launched a steady stream of new programs and benefits aimed attracting and retaining young talent over the past year, apart from committing to big salary and bonus increases. But Orrick’s plan appears to be a new twist.

“It’s a terrific idea,” said former Sullivan & Cromwell attorney turned therapist Will Meyerhofer. “There’s no better way to respond to lawyer burnout than with some sort of extended break or sabbatical.”

Burnout affects even the best lawyers, he said. And when it does, the best and most critical means to address it is by encouraging them to step away from the firm for a change of surroundings and a chance to refresh without negative repercussions, Meyerhofer said.

“It could help a lot of lawyers in a tangible way,” he said. But he suggested it could be made even better.

“I’m not sure a week is really long enough,” Meyerhofer said. “Frankly, two weeks or a month might be more like it.”  


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