How did you spend your Memorial Day Weekend? I’m willing to bet that, while many of your friends and family were traveling, BBQ-ing, and relaxing on the beach, you were stuck inside working on an assignment that you were told (or made to feel) *had to* be done over the holiday weekend, to meet client demands and/or partner expectations. If this was you, and you’d like to work less (or not at all) on future holiday weekends, read on…
Yes, it is possible to be a Biglaw associate (or staff attorney, or counsel, or partner) and not work every holiday weekend (i.e., Friday through holiday Monday). How, you ask? The magic formula is:
strategizing + planning + optimizing optics =
greater likelihood of being off or working less on a holiday weekend
First, it’s important to emphasize that there are no guarantees in Biglaw. Even using the “magic” formula, you may, and likely will, have to work some holiday weekends. But you may be able to take some holiday weekends entirely off, and work fewer other holiday weekends than you have been historically, if you employ the magic formula.
Let’s take a closer look at the magic formula:
- Strategizing. Timing is everything. Determine your end goal, work backwards, and strategize to make it happen. Your goal is to not have to work over the holiday weekend. Given the nature of Biglaw practice, you know that generally, if a draft document or other work product is with someone else, you won’t be able to or need to work on it at the same time. Accordingly, your strategy ought to be to send the work product to the other person to review/deal with it shortly before the holiday weekend (but not too far in advance, such that they might dump it back in your lap right before or during the weekend). Ideally, you’d send it sometime between Wednesday night through around noon on Friday before the holiday weekend. That timing likely ensures that the recipient won’t have enough time to review it, comment, and send it back to you or request a phone call to discuss it between when you send it and when the holiday weekend ends.
- Planning. You can’t always plan your workload in Biglaw, but when you can, it usually pays to do so. If you know you’re going to want to distribute work product sometime between Wednesday and midday Friday before a holiday weekend, then you’ll need to work backwards and plan accordingly to get the distribution ready before then. Have you determined whose comments or sign-off you’ll need to distribute (if anyone), and allotted sufficient time for them to review and sign off? Have you allocated at least a few hours (of your own time or staff members’ time) to proofread and format the document prior to distribution? And keep in mind that deadlines are hard and fast for some, but not others, in Biglaw. When you can build in some extra time “cushion” for yourself, it’s a good idea to do so.
- Optimizing optics. Keep in mind the importance of “optics” in Biglaw (i.e., how something will look to others, such as your supervising attorney, client, or opposing counsel). If you’re successfully going to pull off a work-free or reduced-work holiday weekend, and not have it come back to bite you later, you’ll need to optimize optics. It’s a balancing act—the earlier you send a distribution during the window of Wednesday to midday Friday before a holiday weekend, the more likely it is it will get thrown back to you, and the later you send during that window, the more likely it is the recipient will recognize what you’re doing, label you disorganized, opportunistic, or a jerk, and try to “return the favor” on a subsequent occasion.
This magic formula works best when either: (i) you’re only working on one matter at a time (e.g., fully committed to one massive litigation matter) or (ii) you can get all of your matters/assignments to line up (e.g., all your transactions are moving at approximately the same pace and are at approximately the same stage). That’s admittedly not always possible.
If you can’t secure an entirely work-free weekend, one other way to maximize your free time and minimize your work time during the weekend is to understand human nature, and align your working hours with others’ likely working hours. In my experience, most people who are going to work some, but not all, of a holiday weekend, do so on Saturday morning and Monday afternoon. If you know that the partner or client that you’re working with has this tendency, then plan to set aside a few hours around the same times, to do work and deal with requests that they send to you, and plan anything you want to be totally out-of-pocket for on Saturday night, Sunday, or Monday morning.
One final tip: travel at off-peak times, when it’s least likely to be disruptive/noticeable to your colleagues and clients, and you won’t have to deal with likely travel stress and delays. (Biglaw is challenging and stressful enough, as it is!) This might mean that you fly or drive somewhere on the Wednesday or Thursday night before a holiday weekend, work remotely for a few days, and then return on the Tuesday or Wednesday night after the holiday weekend (assuming your firm will let you work remotely, which is not a given, these days). Or, you can plan to work in the office, but not in your usual office, if your firm will allow it. For example, let’s say that you’re normally based in New York City, but want to spend the holiday weekend in the LA area, and your firm has offices in both cities. You might work in the NYC office from Monday through Wednesday the week before the holiday, fly to LA overnight Wednesday-Thursday, work in the LA office Thursday and Friday, enjoy the holiday weekend through Monday in LA, work in the LA office Tuesday, and then fly home Tuesday-Wednesday overnight. That way, you’re still satisfying your firm’s requirements to work in the (an) office a certain number of days a week, and are available to meet team and client demands during typical working hours, but you’re already in LA to enjoy your free time there over the weekend, in advance of the actual weekend itself. Working in other offices is also a great way to connect with colleagues that you usually work with from afar, and to build your professional network.
D.W. Randolph is a pseudonym for an attorney who is or was a partner, “rainmaker,” and practice leader at an Am Law 100 firm, who has practiced law at multiple Am Law / Vault top law firms in New York City and another large U.S. city, over the span of many years, and the author of the acclaimed “tell-all” book and resource guide to all things Biglaw, entitled Big Law Confidential (affiliate link). D.W. has served in firmwide and office-level leadership positions within their Biglaw firms and led or been involved in nearly all aspects of Biglaw firm operations, from summer associate and attorney hiring, compensation, performance evaluation and promotion, to firm governance and initiatives focused on diversity and inclusion, and more. D.W. graduated with honors from a law school that has historically been ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top 10 law schools in the U.S. and has taught at a law school that has historically been ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top 14 law schools in the U.S.