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For most lawyers, Thanksgiving is the beginning of the end ... of the year, that is. And even for those lawyers that have to meet a billable hour requirement, like every other person employed in a non-retail job, once that first Thanksgiving break hits, the natural tendency is to hit the coast button.
However, nothing brings that holiday coasting to a screeching halt like an unwanted call from an opposing counsel or client with some unforeseen task or dispute. While you always want to take calls from prospective clients, avoiding a call that could throw your holiday schedule out of whack requires careful planning and preparation.
Can't Avoid the Unavoidable
As attorneys, sometimes there will truly be a fire that is unavoidable. As such, you can't avoid all the calls you don't want. That call from opposing counsel you might be trying to duck, could very well be a meet and confer regarding an ex parte application that could potentially change everything. As such, the most important thing to do when trying to avoid calls and put off work until after New Year is exercise good judgment about what can and can't be avoided.
Put Up a Defense
If you normally answer your own phone, you need to get yourself an answering service. If you already have one, or have a secretary, brief them on your holiday game plan. Basically, tell them you don't want calls put through unless it is a prospective client, your boss(es), the court, or on your schedule.
Callers can be advised that your schedule is booked, but that a message can be left. Thanks to email being so ubiquitous, this is not as big of a deal as clients and opposing counsel will generally email you if they can't get through via phone.
Pad Your Days
If you're trying to keep focused on coasting, budgeting a half hour, or hour, less of billable work every day can leave you the time you need for in office online shopping, chatting it up with co-workers, holiday marketing, leaving early, and/or attending holiday parties. If you put in just five extra hours in a week leading up to the holiday, you should be able to do an hour less per week. Also, you can use some of that time to review the messages and emails from the calls you didn't take in order to exercise that better judgment.
Advise Clients in Advance
Having a season's greetings email for clients is just good business. But, it might also be a good idea to have a special one for current clients to remind them about how to contact you during the holidays in that greeting.
Generally, current clients will understand that the end of the year is a busy time. In the email, setting clear boundaries and expectations is a key to ensuring client communication doesn't lead to client dissatisfaction.