As probate lawyers who help navigate a deceased person’s bills and assets, it’s our job to help families when a loved one dies.
Through this work, we see lives end unexpectedly through medical events, physical accidents, and acts of violence. Many times we’ve seen lives that were shorter than hoped. Deaths before retirement. Deaths early in retirement. Dreams unrealized. Relationships neglected. Opportunities not realized.
Not knowing when life might end has pushed me to make sure I’m living the life I want today, not tomorrow. It’s also forced me to reflect on whether I’m helping my team members live the lives they want.
My parents modeled a life of enjoying the journey. Partly this is because they are British and used to taking 5 to 8 weeks of time off each year. Our vacations were modest. We camped regularly in our pop-up trailer and visited family. My parents ran a non-profit counseling center and so they were able to make the decision to work and earn less for us to have more time together as a family.
I’m working to continue the same tradition with my home family and my work family.
Each member of our team gets 30 days off a year. Recently, we increased the number of days the law firm is closed from eight days a year to 15.
Adding some of these days off defies what I was told as a young tax lawyer. In my first year of practice, I was told that tax lawyers can’t take time off from Thanksgiving through the New Year because clients want to get transactions done before the end of the tax year.
I think everyone knows on January 1 that in 365 days it will be December 31 when both the calendar and tax year is done. If a client wants to wait until the end of December to get a transaction done, I’m probably not going to be able to help. I’m going to be with my family.
We close the full week of Christmas. We also closed for a five-day weekend at Thanksgiving and July 4th. In addition to the days we’re closed, we provide team members another 15 days off.
We want our team to take time away from our work family. And we require our team members to use the time off — you can’t defer it and save up more than a year’s worth of time. We value people taking time off.
When I hear about people who never take off a week because they want to show dedication to their employer, what I hear is that those people haven’t figured out how to work well with their teammates and share responsibility. We prioritize making sure our team members get the time they need.
Two years ago, we added a sabbatical. This sabbatical program was born out of envy for Intel’s sabbatical program. A family friend told me that their family was planning to take a month to stay in Argentina in the summer to go skiing. I was immediately curious about how they were able to do this. I found out it was because the friend works at Intel where team members get a four-week sabbatical every four years of service.
I copied that program. The only modification I made was to require the sabbatical. It isn’t optional and can’t be delayed past year five. I once worked at another law firm where lawyers would delay the sabbatical — and even work during the sabbatical to get better work statistics. Not here. If I was allowed, I would dock team members their pay if they worked during the sabbatical. We all need to take time for rest and to recharge.
When I first discussed offering a sabbatical with colleagues, the pushback I received was, “How will you require people to keep working after the sabbatical?”
I don’t. In fact, the first team member who is taking a sabbatical is actually taking it early because she is going to law school and will be significantly reducing her hours. We only have people on our team who want to be part of our work family. If someone quits after a sabbatical, then I will be sad to see the person go — though happy I was able to provide a month-long break from working for that person.
In this business, we often see lives that end before retirement. Many people never even take a two-week vacation while they work. I want a different reality than that. I want my work family to have a different reality than that. I want people to take trips and do things they wouldn’t otherwise do without having a month-long sabbatical. I’m excited that another team member is planning to visit soccer stadiums in Europe next year and spend time volunteering with her family in Spain. Without the sabbatical, I don’t think this would happen.
My hope is that more people will take breaks along the way. A vacation in your 30s and 40s is a much different vacation than one in your 60s and 70s. And some people never make it that far. I encourage my team to live the life want and do it right now.