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Should Lawyers Take Sabbaticals?

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

For a moment, just imagine asking your employer about taking a sabbatical from work.

The question is only difficult because you think that the answer will be "no" and that you will wonder, "what was I thinking?" Then you will be saying to yourself that you never should have read that blog article ...

Regardless, there are compelling reasons to take a sabbatical, even if asking your boss about it makes you uncomfortable.

No Regrets

"I don't know anyone who's taken a sabbatical, or who's taken a break like I did and done something quite different, who has any regrets at all," John Payton told Washington Lawyer magazine. "Not a single person."

Payton, a successful practitioner before the U.S. Supreme Court, took months off between jobs to join his wife who was helping run South Africa's first free elections. He served as an election observer, traveling all over the country. He said it was a challenge to work out the arrangements, but it was worth it.

Joan Indiana Rigdon, who wrote the article for the Washington Lawyer, said every lawyer she interviewed felt recharged by taking sabbaticals. Rigdon herself took off two years to bicycle around the world with her husband.

No Picnic

A sabbatical is not a long vacation. It means doing something different from practicing law. It also means returning to the practice, requiring personal and law firm adjustments.

Angela Morrison, who spent six months traveling with her family, volunteered at her kids' school, "reading a ton of books," and reconnecting with friends. She said it worked because her firm promotes a healthy work-life balance and shares clients.

"Our approach may not work at other firms," she said. "Here, clients are all firm clients -- they don't belong to individual attorneys."

William Lake, a litigator, said his firm decided to accommodate three-month sabbaticals. It allows lawyers enough time to depressurize but not so long as to become disconnected.

"Many legal matters have life that's longer than three months, almost like one of these TV serials where you've missed 15 episodes but nothing's really changed," he said.

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