Monday, May 03, 2010

The Vacation Dilemma



When I started out as a criminal defense lawyer one of the first things I learned is that criminal defense lawyers don't go on long vacations. A "long vacation" being defined as anything longer than a "long weekend."

I understood. Potential clients won't wait more than a day or so to see most criminal defense lawyers, and missing the client, meant missing the case, and the fee. Not to mention that unlike civil lawyers, who seem to be able to set their hearings upon agreement, the criminal court system moves along by judges and clerks setting dates. We can't leave the setting of dates up to lawyers in criminal court, because of course defense lawyers would never set a court date.

As time goes on, a criminal lawyer may reach a level of reputation, where the client will wait for the lawyer to return after a week or two, assuming their office can handle preliminary matters, like the filing of a notice of appearance, or a call to a prosecutor. Still, most clients believe the lawyer needs to be seen, not just heard from, immediately, and will hire the lawyer who is in town.

So the dilemma ensues. Does practicing criminal law mean that there are no long vacations? Is the next case, the next fee, that important. Will the judge not move a hearing? A trial? Will the feds come busting in at 6 a.m. the day after you leave town on a case where you've been talking with the US Attorney?

In 15 years I've gone on a few long vacations, those that are more than a long weekend. Almost every time I came back to a "problem." Even on long weekends, I've left town on a Thursday, only to get a call from someone on Friday. Once it was a judge wondering where I was (then realizing I never received notice), then there was the client's family who were incensed I left town for a few days, and then there's the client(s) who "called someone else."

There will always be work. There will always be clients. There will always be schedules that some judge who never went on vacation as a lawyer will be inflexible. The dilemma will always exist.

I wrote recently that any lawyer who boasts that they never go on vacations, and there are many, is a miserable human being that I do not want to deal with on any level.

Right now though, I've having this dilemma. Upcoming trial, clients waiting to be arrested by agents, and prosecutors on those cases who are little concerned about my travel.

I don't know what the answer is here. I know part of it is something I've already done, and that is to not concern myself with the cases I won't get because I'm out of town and the client won't wait.

My dilemma has changed throughout the years. My dilemma now is leaving when I have things in the hopper, and working in a practice that is all about "me" handling the case. Clients who hire criminal defense lawyers don't want the 2 year associate standing next to them in court.

The dilemma becomes more difficult as the cases become more complicated. Trying to keep things from being set even for a 5 day period coming up is like a game of wackamole. It's almost comical watching notices come in to the office, and fighting off hearings for this upcoming 5 days away, in which 3 are obviously weekdays.

I've said before that the best way to plan a vacation as a lawyer is to do it 6 months in advance. As a criminal lawyer, it's more difficult. Judges are anxious to "close cases," court dates are sometimes "set in stone," and then there's the client who comes in after the plans are made.

Vacations are not the norm, unless they are when everyone else goes on vacation - spring break, Christmas, etc....

Taking off for a week takes armour, swords, and patience, unless you're a judge.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.Share/Save/Bookmarkokdork.com rules Post to Twitter