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Can A Solo Ever Take A Real Vacation?

by Kimberly Fanady, Esq.

Contrary to popular belief, it is possible. In my eight years of solo practice, I've gone to Italy for 2 1/2 weeks, Paris for 10 days, London for 10 days, and Toronto, Vancouver, and New Orleans for one week each. You can, too. You just need three things: planning, coverage and attitude.


Plan well in advance: Look at your calendar, pick a good time for a vacation six months or so from now, and decide you're going. Then start telling everyone in your professional life that you'll be gone then. As the months go by, keep telling them. Every time someone tries to schedule a court hearing, deposition, meeting, or closing, tell them: "Not the first week of April -- I'll be gone then." Choosing that week far in advance allows you to keep it clear.

In California, we have an extremely useful document called a "Notice of Unavailability."

This document arises from the decision in Tenderloin Housing Clinic v. Sparks. In Tenderloin Housing, a solo practitioner notified opposing counsel that she would be on a long-planned, prepaid vacation in England on certain dates. After she departed, opposing counsel served a notice of deposition of the most important witness in the case for a date during the trip, and refused to continue the deposition voluntarily.

The vacationing attorney was forced to participate in a telephonic ex parte motion for a continuance from England, and when that motion was denied, to return from England four days early to attend the deposition. Upon her return, opposing counsel informed her that the deposition had been cancelled.

The no-longer-vacationing attorney sought and was granted substantial sanctions -- the court found that while opposing counsel was, of course, entitled to take discovery, the timing of the discovery was in bad faith and solely intended to harass.

Since the Tenderloin Housing decision, California counsel routinely serve notices of unavailability informing other counsel when they will be absent from the office, requesting that they not schedule anything that would require counsel's presence or require counsel to file pleadings during that time, and stating that under Tenderloin Housing, they may be subject to sanctions for ignoring the notice.

(If your state doesn't have a similar procedure or notice, start lobbying your bar association!)

Notably, the Tenderloin Housing court found that "an attorney has a obligation not only to protect his client's interests but also to respect the legitimate interests of fellow members of the bar." Thus, at least in California, your vacation has the official imprimatur of the courts as a "legitimate interest." Judges seem to recognize this: I've seen many judges at trial-setting conferences brush off attorneys' protests about conflicting trial dates, but bow to the magic words "prepaid vacation." So go pursue your "legitimate interest."


On a real vacation, you don't want to be calling in to the office all the time and having nervous, self-absorbed clients call you on your cell phone -- that's a "working vacation," which is an oxymoron. Either you're on vacation, or you're working at a location other than your office. Go on a real vacation.

Get someone very, very responsible, whom you trust implicitly, to cover for you. If you don't have such a person, start looking for one.

The extent of coverage you will need depends on the nature of your practice. In my civil business litigation practice, I don't get many real certified emergencies. My clients don't call me from the county jail at 2:00 AM, and they don't come rushing in with a new "take it or leave it right now" business deal that has to be documented immediately before they lose the opportunity. Essentially, I need someone to babysit the office. Recognize and be realistic about what type of work may need to be done in your absence, and choose your coverage person accordingly.

When I go on vacation, I have a fellow solo litigator monitor my cases. I write him a long memo with a brief description of each case, including the names and phone numbers of the client and all counsel, the issues in the case, what if anything might happen while I'm gone, any particular mail he should look for (e.g., discovery responses), any client idiosyncrasies, and anything that he absolutely shouldn't do or agree to. I instruct my secretary to sort through the mail and faxes and give anything that looks case-related to him for review. I tell him how to reach me in a true emergency (which has never happened), and I trust him to exercise his judgment if anything comes up. Usually I return to find couple of phone messages that read something like this: "Ms. Jones called. I told her to call again next week when you're back."


Believe it or not, the world will not come to an end if you are out of the office. Your clients will not leave you. As a matter of fact, they may not notice you're gone until you're back. They're not thinking about you -- they're thinking about themselves. Their lives are just as busy, and their days go by just as quickly as yours. On my first vacation, I obsessively checked my voicemail for messages. In the first three days, I got exactly one message -- from a telemarketer. I then concluded, happily, that I wasn't nearly as important as I had thought.

If you miss a new client (who might have hired you if you were here), you just have to have faith that someone else will call next week. If you're good at what you do, there's always more work out there. (You can also click your heels together three times and repeat, as often as necessary: There's always more work out there.)

And last but not least, don't embarrass yourself by being such a workaholic geek that you're calling the office from the top of the Eiffel Tower. Don't alienate the person you traveled halfway around the world with by "just checking in" from a romantic café on the Grand Canal. Turn off your cell and go see -- really see -- the seven wonders of the world.

So yes, a solo can take a real vacation. Not only can you -- you must. Working 24/7, or thinking about work 24/7, is an infallible recipe for exhaustion, frustration and burnout. The original meaning of the word "recreation" is "re-creation." You must get away from the office every so often to re-create yourself, so that you can come back refreshed, revitalized, and ready to work again. So, sit down, turn the pages of your calendar a few months ahead, and start planning that vacation!

This article was first published in

About The Author

Kimberly Fanady, Esq. is a solo practitioner in San Francisco. Her business litigation practice includes the representation of clients ranging from large corporations to small businesses and individuals in federal and state trial and appellate courts, in the areas of contract disputes, business torts, real estate, construction, creditors' remedies, employment discrimination and wrongful termination, and workout/settlement negotiation and documentation. Before opening her solo practice in May 1996, Ms. Fanady practiced with Buchalter, Nemer, Fields & Younger in San Francisco and Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft in New York. She is admitted to the California and New York bars and various federal courts in California and New York. She is a member of the Bar Association of San Francisco and serves as a mediator in BASF’s Early Settlement Program. In 1995, Ms. Fanady co-authored "Handling Federal Discovery," a practice guide to discovery in federal courts, published by James Publishing. She can be reached at

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.

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