Law Firm Management

Vacation Frustration

A junior Associate at a law firm  called me the other day to complain. There is nothing unusual about that. Associates complain a lot, often with good reason.

Her complaint this time was that she told H.R. that she needed to take a day off for a personal reason and was informed that she had only two choices. She could take the day as vacation or unpaid.

This particular Associate works constantly. She is often in the office well past 8 pm and working on weekends is common. However, a day off? Her contract does not provide for that.

When I was a Partner in a law firm, I was just as mercenary as everyone else, and I also liked to see my Associates piling on the billable hours. However, when an Associate came to me to ask about taking some extra time off, I responded differently.  I used to tell them, “you do not have to ask me to take time off. There are plenty of downsides to being a lawyer when it comes to your hours of work. The one advantage should be that as a professional you can take whatever time off you want, provided that, (1) you are meeting your billable hours targets; and (2) your clients are happy.” 

Of course, as part of a firm, I was not supposed to be telling the Associates to ignore the H.R. policies. But I was senior enough to get away with it, and to cover for my Associates if anyone noticed, provided of course that their hours were up and their clients were happy.

I suspect that I now have the H.R. professionals cringing (and quite correctly so) about the problems inherent in having every Partner think that they have the right to set their own rules for their Associates.  I truly regret this, because I have great respect for the role that H.R. professionals play in the employment circus that is a law firm.  However, I truly think that vacation rules for Associate in law firms are stupid and counterproductive. Associates whose hours are on target and are keeping their clients happy should not have to talk to H.R. about taking time off. They should just tell their supervisors that they are taking the day off and be gone!

 We subject these people to incredible stress and impose demands on their time which would be illegal for the average worker. We tell them that they have to do this because they are highly paid ‘professionals.’ Then,  when they have to take a break in a fruitless attempt to preserve their mental health or to deal with a pressing personal matter, we have the audacity to treat them like school children and tell them that they are out of hall passes.

Thankfully, every law firm Partner knows how to fix this issue. They can soldier on with this  nonsense and turn it over to marketing to remind their people of how lucky they are to work at their firm.

This article was originally published by Law360 Canada, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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