Friday, August 23, 2013

Go Away And They Will Come

Last week things were dead around the office.  I got maybe five pieces of mail all week, and it was all junk mail.  The phone was not ringing.  The email box was empty.  I could have taken the week off and gone fishing.  Monday of this week I left town to move my son into his freshman dorm at college (Go Syracuse!). We had a great time, even though my son was constantly thumb glued to his iPhone and iPad.

It's Friday morning and I am now back in the office.  Surprise, surprise I have more than 50 messages in my email box.  There are a dozen voice mail messages waiting for me. I have so much mail I cannot see my desk.  I have a stack of exhibits dropped off by a client.  Two new motions were sent to me while I was away. Where was all this stuff last week?

I have a personal policy of turning off the office when I go away.  Unlike my son, I did not need to be connected 24/7.  I did Skype my paralegal yesterday, but that was because I was sitting at the airport for a four hour layover, and I was bored out of my gourd.  I am not one of those workaholics who takes the office on vacation.  Still, my experience this morning demonstrates how important it is to have a system in place for when you are away from the office.  All of this activity cannot be ignored.  Systems are the key.

I am fortunate enough to have a very talented paralegal working with me.  When I am away she checks my voice mail for me.  She opens, reviews, and runs the snail mail through the scanner.  If a problem arises she can get in touch with me, and we deal with it.  She knows that it has to be a real emergency!

What if you are not as fortunate as me, and you don't have an assistant you can rely upon?  Can you still survive?  Yes you can.

1.   Get the word out.  This is really the most important thing you can do.  In advance of your trip let your clients and your opposing counsel know that you will be away.  They will understand, and they will appreciate knowing in advance why you will not be available.

2.   Set your email auto responder.  More and more, email is becoming the default communications channel. Program an auto responder in your email program so that each message coming into your inbox gets an automated response letting the sender know that you will be away from the office.  Don't go to the trouble of being too specific.  Bad guys and girls don't need to know that you will be traveling to Australia for the next two weeks and your house will be sitting empty for them to burgle.  I still check my email once a day while I am away as a troubleshooting technique.  Rarely if ever do I come across something that cannot hold until my return to the office.

3.   Change your voice mail message.  Create a specific voice mail message letting callers know that you will be away from the office.  Again, don't go to the trouble of being too specific.  Bad guys and girls don't need to know that you will be traveling to Australia for the next two weeks and your house will be sitting empty for them to burgle.

4.   If your jurisdiction recognizes such a tool, send out notices of unavailability of counsel to create a formal record of your unavailability.

5.   The snail mail will be an issue.  You cannot have a stranger open while you are away because of confidentiality issues.  It may just have to sit there until your return.  Alternatively, you can hire a friend, a retired legal secretary, or a trusted someone looking for a little extra cash to come in to your office and open the mail.  Then they can send you an email summarizing what they see.  If you share office space, and the other attorney has a secretary, ask that person to go through the mail.  Make sure you have that the person you have going through your mail signs a confidentiality agreement, and make sure you have explained the importance of confidentiality to him or her.

6.   Find a cover lawyer.  Make arrangements with one of your buddies to be on stand by just in case.  All of us lawyers love our time away.  Covering for one another is part of the collegiality of the profession.  Just make sure that the person you call upon is not presently opposing you in any cases -- that could create conflict of interest problems.  If you encounter the rare instance of needing to make an emergency court appearance, or an ex parte application has to be responded to, you will be covered.  A point of order. Assure that friend/lawyer in advance that you are not expecting charity work, and that he or she will be fully compensated for any coverage work done on your behalf.  Even if you have to pay for that work out of your own pocket, do it.  It is only fair, and it will facilitate future repeat performances.

7.  Go on your trip, and enjoy yourself.  You deserved, and you need the break.  Your clients and your cases will be okay while you are away.

Please visit for more information about Harding & Associates Family Law 

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