I’m slowly getting back into the swing of things after the longest vacation I’ve taken since I began practicing law. From planning the vacation, to preparing for it, to actually taking the time off and trying to enjoy myself, the experience taught me quite a bit. It drove home a lot of points about the nature of what I do.
I should never view any non-work-related plans as concrete. As hard as that’s been for me to swallow, with my current practice, I know that it’s true. I represent a fair number of clients each year, and at any given time, many of their cases are at very different stages. I’m never at a point where I have no clients, so there’s always somebody who’s my responsibility. My clients, as well as courts, prosecutors, law enforcement agencies, and all kinds of other unexpected people, therefore have the potential for creating urgent work for me at any time. If something comes up that falls within the scope of my duties as counsel, I have to make the sacrifice and get back to work. If I can’t do the work when it needs to get done, then I shouldn’t have accepted the fee. For that reason, although I spent two years planning what I had hoped to do this year, work still interfered tremendously.
I was going to take all of this past July off so I could ride my motorcycle all over the country. I worked my ass off for a long time to have that month free, but my plans just didn’t work out. I ended up having to leave my bike in Boston and fly back to Arizona to go back to work for a couple of months before finishing my vacation. Why? A court vacated a hearing set after my return. There was a possibility the client would be released at the hearing, and the court’s next availability after the hearing it was vacating wasn’t for quite some time. The court said it could push the hearing back, resulting in weeks of additional jail for my client, or it could set it right in the middle of my vacation, potentially resulting in my client’s release weeks earlier than we previously thought possible. The decision to change my plans was easy, but it was still tough to do. Luckily, the sacrifice paid off with my client’s immediate release following the hearing.
Taking uncertainty into account isn’t the end of it. Sure, I don’t know if I’ll ever buy a non-refundable ticket again. And if it doesn’t seem like a total scam, I imagine I’ll always buy cancellation insurance too. But I’ve also learned that planning often starts well in advance of the vacation. What do you do if an in-custody client insistent on trial wants to hire you, and you know his trial date is going to fall right in the middle of your vacation months down the road? In jurisdictions like Maricopa County, it’s easy to anticipate trial dates. They’re always about 120 to 150 days from the arraignment, so if you’re taking a few weeks off, you can be pretty certain based only on a summons whether or not you’re going to be available for the eventual trial. If you have any reason to believe your client’s liberty may be affected by your vacation schedule, you need to disclose that. In my practice, if I’m not working, then I’m not making money. Vacationing also costs me clients both during the time I’m gone as well as months in advance.
I haven’t even gotten to the most difficult part. Of all the hassle of trying to get some time away to relax, the part that’s taken more getting used to than anything else is the fact that any vacation I take is probably going to include some work. Because I have clients at all times, and because a great deal of my schedule is beyond my control, there is probably going to be work to do. As a rule of thumb, I just assume that every client being investigated gets arrested right after I leave town, that every client waiting for charges receives a summons with an initial appearance date right after I leave town, and that every motion I’ve filed gets set for a hearing right after I leave town. In eight days of my vacation, I probably stopped the bike on the side of the road in at least as many states to try to get something reset. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but it was what I had to do. It’s the price of being a criminal defense lawyer with a small firm. I doubt these things are ever going to change, but if any of the other lawyers reading this have any ideas that won’t hurt any of my clients, I’m all ears.
Despite all of this, I had a great vacation. I’m convinced that the most important thing to remember for any private criminal defense lawyer trying to take time off is the fact that nothing will be perfect. Any vacation will be especially expensive for me because of the nature of my job, and I may have to work during my time off or even change my plans entirely. In the end, though, I look at it like this: would I rather be back at the office somewhere in the middle of an eighty-hour week, or would I rather be fishing during a beautiful sunset or riding over a curvy mountain pass, about to return to reality for a little while before getting back to fun and relaxation? Putting it that way, the answer is obvious to me.