Running into an attorney colleague at court is not unusual. But whenever I hear one particular solo practitioner friend’s distinct voice coming from somewhere within a crowded court hallway, I smile and think, I wonder what part of the world she’s just returned from.
I met Elaine early in my solo career when she posted an ad for some independent contract work, or court coverage as we call it in the industry. She was going on an exotic vacation with her husband and children and needed an attorney to manage her court appearances while she was gone. If memory serves me right, it was a 2-week bicycling trip across Cambodia.
Now further advanced in my career, with employees of my own, I have the means to travel too. So our annual encounters are not simply limited to me hearing about a sea cruise to the Antarctic or an ice hotel stay in Scandanavia. I get to share my adventures too. This time I had just returned from Paris. Amateur hour for a seasoned traveler like my colleague, but still a respectable trip. “I’m trying to make a point to take one minor and one major trip each year,” I explained. “Oh, was Paris the minor trip?” Ah, yes. I was quickly reminded that I am still a beginner at this globe trotting lawyer lifestyle. No, the minor trip was a conference in Las Vegas that doubled as a work expense.
Later, over cocktails, another attorney friend asked me about my travels. “If you could live in any of the places you have been to, which one would you pick?” Exhausted from a grueling 6-day work week I had only completed moments earlier, I replied “I don’t know. I hate them all.” As soon as the words were spoken, I realized I sounded like a spoiled brat. My dear friend had to invest more planning into work scheduling and child care arrangements in order to meet me for drinks than I had spent booking my upcoming trip to the Mayan ruins of the Yucatan.
In the past few years, I have ridden in lake boats and prayed in Buddhist temples in China. I have driven a car in rush hour traffic in Tokyo and tied a handwritten wish on a wooden block to a tree branch at a Shinto shrine. I have sipped absinthe in historic bars and discussed literature (in French) with Parisians while exploring Le Marais. I discovered I can fake my way through Dutch language proficiency adequately enough to not only catch a train to Amsterdam but even give directions to confused Italian tourists. I have climbed pyramids in Mexico and bar hopped in South Beach and Vegas. I dove off a cliff into the Pacific and swam under a waterfall in Hawaii. Further back, I enjoyed cocktails in Hemingway’s favorite hangouts in Havana. I traveled to countries in Eastern Europe that no longer exist, watching street names change daily and statues of former heroes pulled down to be replaced by McDonald’s and Starbucks signs. Why do I hate these places?
The simple answer is that as attorneys, we are never expected to take vacations. Tell a judge you need to reschedule a court date because a vacation? You’re not going to get any sympathy. Not “good cause,” counselor. Your assistant explains to your client that you’re out of the office and not going to return their call today because you are on a beach? That client is convinced you’ve embezzled their money and neglected their case. Expect a negative online review, a request for investigation from the Attorney Grievance Commission, an email firing you and demanding an immediate refund, and a condescending call from another lawyer who claims he’s just been hired to replace you.
So here is how I vacation. I never take a trip longer than 4 days. 2 of those days will be a Saturday and Sunday. I keep a cell phone on me as much as possible (the FAA does impose some limits on use) and try to find wifi whenever and wherever I can. This helps a little in juggling the average 500 incoming emails I have to respond to each day. Scott is not “on vacation.” He is “out of the office.”
One night, around 3:00 a.m. Tokyo time, I found a rental cell phone (American SIM cards don’t work in Japan) and managed to stop an illegal eviction of my client’s business from his commercial property. Court officers had stormed the shop and were pulling merchandise from the shelves to throw into a dumpster. Calling my office, the court, opposing counsel, the court officer’s cell phone, and my client, I got it to stop. But no one knew I was doing all of this from one day in the future in Asia, forfeiting my sleep for the benefit of the client. These events happen each time I travel. As a result, my pleasant travel experience memories seem to get blurred by my memories of remote resolution of one crisis after another. I have gotten better at contingency planning for everything from client emergencies to volcanic eruptions and swine flu pandemics.
So you may think it’s boring that my favorite cities are Chicago and Montreal. Well, that’s probably as much to do with my love of each place as it is with the fact they have reliable wifi and cellular service and are easy to return from in a premature rush when the shit hits the fan back at the office. Next stop: Tulum.