Your options for managing your practice during your absence will depend on a number of circumstances such as firm policy, size of firm and type of legal practice.
Some questions to consider:
- Who can look after your files during your absence?
- How will your files be transferred back to you when you return to work?
- Do you want to have any client contact while on leave?
- How do you want to handle emails and phone calls while you are on leave?
Do you want to attend firm social events while on leave?
The following are valuable tips from NSBS Members:
“When going off on mat leave, consider carefully who you are going to delegate your files to. Will the files and clients be returned to you when you’re back? Often other women who have been on leave understand and can be trusted to take good care of your clients but also hand the files back on your return.”
“An important tip in private practice is to remember that you not only have to deal with passing on your files to someone else as you prepare to leave, but you should have an understanding with the person/people taking on your files about what should happen when you return. Ideally you should write a memo on each file and set out what will happen when you return, i.e. ‘I will be returning on [date or approximate date] and would like you to prepare a transition memo for the return of the file back to me. Hopefully we can also meet in person to discuss what occurred while I was on leave.’”
“The understanding you have with each person who takes on a file should also be the understanding you have with appropriate management. The last thing you want when you return is to spend lots of time ramping up and/or searching for work or having battles over your files.”
“Figure out how you’ll treat email and voice mail when you’re gone. If you have a good assistant, you could arrange to have her/him review all incoming emails (even though your out-of-office notification is on), get rid of junk mail, ensure that file-related messages are passed on to the appropriate lawyer, or alert you to ones you might want to see (perhaps by forwarding to home email). Some people might prefer to monitor their email while on leave, and it’s really a personal choice. The main thing is to make a choice and make sure your assistant is on board.”
“It’s important, particularly for the maternity/parental leave parent, to consider in advance what will happen with your practice. Are there are other lawyers at your firm who can float your files until you return? We all hate to ’give up’ a client and will always worry that they won’t want to return to us at the end of our leave, however, they usually do. I suggest that when you’re at home on your parental leave, focus your energy on your new baby, as your clients will survive with other temporary counsel.”
“I did want to stay in the loop with regard to social events within the firm, and arising practice issues relevant to the areas of law I practise in, so I spoke with our IT person and he set up a ’maternity leave email account’ for me. This allowed me to stay in touch with the firm without receiving any emails from clients, conflict inquiries, etc.”
“Recently, I approached the partners and management about the need for our hourly and money targets to account for a ’ramp-up/ramp-down’ period for lawyers who are taking an extended period of leave like maternity, parental or disability leave. As I was the first lawyer to take maternity leave, this wasn’t an issue our firm had to face in the past. Fortunately, they responded positively and recognized the need to account for this type of work when assessing the lawyer’s performance.”
“Most importantly – enjoy the time off with your new baby. Who cares about work … this time is precious and there will always be work for a lawyer.”