Revitalization: A Key to Planning Successful Firm and Solo Practice Transitions

  • Wendy E. Best

Table of Contents

  1. Revitalization - Sabbaticals
    1. Timing
    2. Money
    3. File/Client Preparation
    4. Other Do's and Dont's
    5. What Should you Do?
  2. Schedule I - Extract of Partnership Agreement
  3. Article 24 - Sabbatical
  4. Schedule A - Terms Relating to Sabbaticals

1. Revitalization - Sabbaticals

Contrary to a sabbatical leave with a university, a sabbatical with a law firm is usually a lengthy vacation with no requirement to study or write publications. But there is a big difference between a vacation and a sabbatical. When you take your usual vacation you postpone work or, if delegated, it is minimally managed and you return from your vacation to face a wall of work, causing the restorative effects of your holiday to vanish within a few days of your return. With a sabbatical, your desk is cleared, your files are handed out and your client's are tended to during your absence. You generally return to only a few files but within 3 to 4 weeks you are back at full speed.

Our small to medium sized (15 lawyers) firm put a sabbatical program in place in 1979 when the firm commenced and for a portion of every year since, we have had at least one partner on sabbatical. This year, we have three partners away. Admittedly other law firms in Canada have sabbatical programs in existence, the difference with ours is that we do not just talk about them, we go! Our sabbaticals are an important and jealously guarded part of our firm culture.

After 20+ years of experience, we have developed a set of formal and informal "rules" on how to ensure a positive experience for both the sabbatical partner and the firm.

Rule #1: The most important "rule" of our sabbatical program (and in my opinion, why it is successful) is that it is mandatory. Our partnership agreement requires each partner to take a sabbatical during a prescribed year (see Schedule 1).

Starting the year prior, the sabbatical partner(s) is asked for an indication of when he/she will be away. Our theory is if you have not decided and confirmed (within reasonable limits) when you will be absent by January of your sabbatical year, the rest of the partners will choose it for you!

a. Timing

For many years, our sabbatical program wasthree consecutive months every five years with no other time off that year. In recent years, we have changed it to two consecutive months every three years with an additional two weeks of holidays during the same year.

b. Money

Twenty years ago, when our firm was smaller and newer, a partner on sabbatical did not receive any draws. We quickly realized that sabbaticals are often expensive and that most partners' billings and receipts during a sabbatical year are the same as a regular year. Now, a sabbatical partner receives full draws (and any profit sharing) while away, even if the other partners don't!

c. File/Client Preparation

  • Three to six months before you go, send out a form letter to every client and on every open file, advising of your mandatory sabbatical and the name of the temporary replacement lawyer. Be prepared for a flurry of work.
  • Be prepared to work very hard for weeks or months before you leave. Clients or opposing counsel may not want to shift lawyers, so there will be a big push for you to settle or finish the files. If a file isn't going to be completed, you know one of your partners will be looking at these files and you will want to make sure the file is in perfect shape.
  • Assign every open file to another lawyer.
  • On active files that will require work in your absence, set up a meeting between you, the client and the replacement lawyer before you leave.
  • Memo every file.
  • Don't book trials/hearings closer than two weeks before you leave or four to six weeks after your return.
  • Stop taking on new files for three months before you leave.
  • Do a master list with the name of every file and the assigned lawyer. Before you leave, provide a copy to your assistant, receptionist, office manager and managing partner.

d. Other Do's and Don'ts

  • If you're the sabbatical partner, don't phone the office and check in while you are away.
  • If you're a partner at the office, don't call the sabbatical partners, for any reason.
  • Request that your assistant be around for at leasttwo weeks after you leave andone week before you return. Otherwise, we generally give our assistant's the option of taking their holidays and/or an unpaid leave during the rest of the sabbatical time.
  • If you are the principal of an articling student, reassign your student during your absence. From experience, we know that all problems on files and even law society complaints and law suits can wait two orthree months.
  • Give an assistant or an associate a treat and loan them your parking pass.
  • Don't leave your house empty for more than 30 days.
  • Get extended health coverage for out of country travel.

e. What Should You Do?

Plan Ahead

Up to one year in advance, a sabbatical is a wonderful opportunity for anything from exotic travel to a simple rest and relaxation and spending more time with family and friends.

My partners have done everything from spending time at a lakeside trailer; going on an African Safari; to driving a motor home across Canada; climbing mountains in South America; scuba diving in Australia; renting a home in a small Italian Village; to going back to university in Southern California.

If you are going to travel, explore opportunities and make sure your spouse/children/family/friends have also booked off the time and committed to the event.


  • I will lose my clients while away. Remember: what goes around, comes around. Our commitment to our sabbatical partner is to properly handle the file during their absence and return the client when they are back, just as that partner will do for you when you are away. We will even keep the client the other lawyer doesn't want back.
  • My spouse/partner can't get the time off. Neither can mine—spend some time at home (there's great luxury in walking to Starbucks in your shorts at 10:00 a.m. on a Tuesday); go somewhere with friends; take your children somewhere and let your spouse enjoy time at home.
  • I might not return. We have never had that experience. We like to come back to tell our stories and plan our next sabbatical.
  • No one will hire me when I get back. Two or three months of work time passes in a blink of an eye. The same time on holidays is long and luxurious. Many clients and other lawyers will comment "You are back already?". Think of it as starting fresh, new files with new interesting problems to solve.
  • I am too important. One of the most significant benefits of our sabbatical program is that we have each learned that we are replaceable and life at the firm will continue when we are not there.

Revitalization - Other

  • Plan and take regular holidays. Our partnership agreement also expects each partner to take six weeks of holidays in non-sabbatical years.
  • Laugh.
  • Work with people you enjoy.
  • Do work you enjoy.
  • Exercise
  • Maximize the time you spend with your spouse/partner and children and other family.
  • Get a new pillow, good sheets and open the window.

Other Resources

"Six Months off: How to Plan, Negotiate and Take the Break You Need Without Burning Bridges or Going Broke", Hope Olugozima, James Scott and David Sharp (1996), Henry Holt, New York.

"Time Off from Work: Using Sabbaticals to Enhance Your Life While Keeping Your Career on Track", Lisa Angowski Rogake (1994), John Wiley and Sons, New York.

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23.1 Except while on Sabbatical, each Partner may take a maximum of six (6) weeks holidays (being a maximum of thirty (30) working days) in each fiscal year and may take additional holidays in that fiscal year as agreed to by Ordinary Resolution of the remaining Partners. If a Partner does not take all of its holidays in each fiscal year, it receives no additional monetary compensation from the Partnership. Holidays are non-cumulative in each fiscal year.

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24.1 Each Partner shall take a Sabbatical for the amount of time in the year and in the manner designated on Schedule "A" unless otherwise agreed by Ordinary Resolution of the remaining Partners. A Partner shall give not less than six (6) months notice prior to the commencement of its Sabbatical unless otherwise agreed to by Ordinary Resolution of the remaining Partners. Sabbatical terms and conditions are set forth in Schedule "A". Schedule "A" may be amended from time to time by Ordinary Resolution.

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1. Unless otherwise agreed by the remaining Partners, only one Partner may be on Sabbatical at any one time. In any event, there shall not be more than a one month overlap of any Sabbatical. In the event that there is a disagreement about the timing of any Partners Sabbatical, then such disagreement shall be referred to the Managing Partner for a decision, which shall be binding.

2.While on Sabbatical a Partner is entitled to its full share of the profits of the Partnership.

3.Any money earned by a Partner while on Sabbatical may be retained by it so long as said money was not earned by the Partner practising law in Alberta.

4. During the fiscal year in which a Partner takes a sabbatical, said Partner shall also be entitled to up to two (2) weeks of holidays, unless otherwise agreed by the remaining Partners.

5. Failure of a Partner to return from Sabbatical at the agreed upon return date shall, at the option of the remaining Partners, be deemed to be a withdrawal by the Partner from the Partnership effective at the commencement of the Sabbatical. Provisions relating to Retirement of a Partner shall apply.

6. Sabbaticals are non-cumulative.

7. Unless otherwise agreed by Special Resolution:

  1. a Partner shall be entitled to take a Sabbatical once every three (3) years;
  2. Partners admitted to the Partnership after the date of this Agreement shall be entitled to a Sabbatical in the third year following their admission to the Partnership and every three (3) years thereafter; and
  3. current Partners shall be entitled to a Sabbatical for the period of time during the year's as set out below:
Year vs Sabbatical Period
Year Partner (No. of months)
2000 Blocksom (3); Dunphy (2.5)
2001 Minchin (2.5); Younggren (2); Seifert (2)
2002 Best (2); Lee (2)
2003 Blocksom (2); Dunphy (2); Marriott (2)
2004 Minchin (2); Younggren (2); Seifert (2))
Best (2); Lee (2)

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Wendy E. Best, Q.C., Dunphy Best Blocksom, Barristers and Solicitors 2100, 777 - 8 Avenue S.W.Calgary, Alberta T2P 3R5, 403-265-7777,