An attorney taking an extended leave of absence or sabbatical can be difficult for any law firm to manage, and particular challenges arise for small firms where there may only be a few—or even no—other attorneys to cover the caseload and run the business. However, there are many ways small firms can prepare for and ultimately thrive from attorneys taking a leave of absence or sabbatical.
First, as early as possible before an attorney takes leave, identify cases to push along and resolve so that the firm’s overall caseload is lighter during the leave period.
Second, as the leave period approaches, notify all current clients of the absence and provide them with a clear plan for what will happen on their case during this period and whom they can contact should they have any concerns or questions about their case.
Third, before going out on leave, take care of all anticipated business-related tasks, such as setting up auto-pay or paying recurring invoices in advance.
Fourth, during the actual leave period, consider retaining a colleague from another firm on a contract basis to step in for work that cannot wait, such as returning calls from potential new clients, handling unexpected motion work, and responding to opposing counsel on time-sensitive matters. It is worth the investment to retain a contract attorney to handle urgent matters, including court appearances, so that cases move along and the small firm’s bottom line doesn’t take a financial hit in the long run.
Fifth, consider establishing more stringent criteria for evaluating potential new cases or clients, which will help save precious time by quickly screening out cases.
Sixth, if the firm decides to take on very few or no new cases during the attorney’s leave, prepare a standard email response to all new intakes explaining the extended leave and directing them to other attorneys you trust in the community.
Taking extended leaves of absences—whether for time with family members, baby bonding, or sabbaticals—should be part of our careers as attorneys, irrespective of whether we work in a large firm or a small one. This time off allows us to pursue interests outside of work and to come back to our careers with new perspectives and fresh enthusiasm.
About the Authors:
Emily Thiagaraj and Alison Kosinski are partners in a two-attorney firm, Kosinski and Thiagaraj, where they represent workers in wage and hour, discrimination, and retaliation cases. They are both mothers, world travelers, and cyclists who are always striving to achieve a better work-life balance.