They are great... both the firm and the lawyer benefit.
By James Goulden
Sabbatical? I was only 42 years old. Why would I need a sabbatical? I had been working at Bull, Housser & Tupper LLP, since I articled there in 1992 – just 17 years. My parents both worked at their jobs for much longer without any sabbatical. As I thought about it more, however, I began to focus on the personal benefits that I would receive from a sabbatical, as well as the benefits I hoped the firm would receive from allowing me to take an extended break from work.
The sabbatical program at Bull, Housser & Tupper LLP is available to all partners with approval by our Executive Committee. For example, our Executive Committee has to make sure that not too many partners wish to take a sabbatical at the same time. For a sabbatical, a partner is entitled to take three months paid leave from the firm. As well, you are able to add, if desired, your four weeks of vacation time to the sabbatical, resulting in four months away from the office. There are no specific requirements for your sabbatical, such as writing a book or taking a course. Your time away from the office does not impact your compensation. As well, your targets for the year, such as billings, are reduced accordingly.
In considering a sabbatical, I had worries. Would the clients survive? Would they forget about me? Would there be any work for me to do upon my return to the office? All of these fears turned out to be misplaced.
First of all, when you are away from the office, you quickly come to the realization that everyone can survive without you for a few months. I work in a large firm and my partners and colleagues were more than capable of handling my files while I was away from the office. Our clients were well served during my absence. That said, as you have developed relationships with your clients over the years, they are indeed pleased to see you return and pleased to work with you again.
Second, by delegating most of your practice in preparation for an extended leave, you are left with a partially clean slate when you return. Some of your files will not return after a sabbatical (some of which you are pleased to see go!). However, this new “gap” in your practice provides you with the freedom and time to reconnect with people and pursue new or different work upon your return to the office. In the short period after returning from my sabbatical, I was able to focus more on client relationships than I have for at least 10 years. It has been very rewarding. As well, in addition to the positive recharging effects of a sabbatical, by seeking out and obtaining new work for the firm after a sabbatical, the firm is also better off.
A sabbatical only works if you are truly away from the office. I made the decision not to perform any work while I was away from the office. I did not respond to emails on my BlackBerry and often had my BlackBerry turned off while I was away. I made it clear to clients and the firm that I would not be checking or responding to emails. We both survived. As a result, my sabbatical was fantastic. I travelled throughout India, Europe and the United States. I spent loads of time with family and friends. I came back to the office feeling relaxed, revitalized and excited about the next 17 years of practising law at Bull Housser & Tupper LLP. A sabbatical is great and both the firm and the lawyer benefit.
James Goulden, Partner, Bull Housser & Tupper LLP
This article was published in the October 2010 issue of BarTalk. © 2010 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.