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Archive for the ‘Vacation’ Category

For those who have been following the posts from this week, by now you have learned how to “save” your vacation days if your firm has a 0.1 billable day policy, and the reasons why I believe this is actually a fair policy to the firm and to associates.

But, you ask, what if my firm forces me to account for seven hours per day?  I can’t simply bill 0.1 billable hours and then get a tan while sipping a Sex on the Beach.

No, you can’t.  But the good news is this: there are other, creative things you can do.

The “working vacation” is a great way to mix business and pleasure, and save those precious vacation days.  When you are buried up to your ears in work, and sick of spending 12+ hours a day in the office, why not change your setting?  If you are in LA, go work in your firm’s NY office.  If your firm is international, even better.  Take a trip to Paris, work out of the Paris office during the day, and enjoy your evenings off.  The human mind works in funny ways, but you may have noticed that when you are working really hard over an extended period of time, even one evening off seems like a huge deal.  Conversely, if you’ve had a long vacation, even working a few hours becomes tiring.  Learn to channel the adaptive nature of your brain and take advantage of it.  Trust me, even having an hour to eat dinner at a fine restaurant in a foreign location feels like a vacation when you’ve been toiling away and eating Chinese takeout every night for two straight months.

Even better when you can make up a reason why you need to work out of the foreign office — your case is staffed there, you need to meet with a certain partner in that office, you have to meet a witness there.  The best part about that is that usually you can get part or all of your business expenses comped.  Not only do you not use vacation hours, you also don’t have to pay for it.

What else?  How about distribution of time on your time entry from one day to another?  Let’s say you worked from 9 a.m. this morning until 2 a.m. the next day.  The reason you worked so hard was because you needed to finish up a lot of work before you go on vacation tomorrow.  Ideally, you’d like not to use your vacation time but your firm doesn’t allow the 0.1 hour policy, so you have to account for 7 hours somehow.

Assuming that out of the 17 hours between 9 a.m. and 2 a.m., you billed 15 hours and spent 2 hours doing other stuff.  How can you apportion your time?  Here are the possibilities:

Option #1:  12/4/09 — 15 hours doing W, X, Y, and Z

12/5/09 — 7 hours billed to vacation

In Option #1, all your billable time is billed to one day.  It is technically one day in the sense that you were in the office the whole day, and you are ignoring the fact that at midnight, you have now moved into the next day.  This option is least attractive because you end up billing 7 hours to vacation.  So what can we do?

Option #2: 12/4/09 — 13 hours doing W, X and Y

12/5/09 — 2 hours doing Z; 5 hours billed to vacation

Option #2 is better because it moves the two hours after midnight to the following day, where it legitimately belongs.  This option is more attractive because you have now “saved” two vacation hours.  But can we do better?

Option #3: 12/4/09 — 8 hours doing W and X

12/5/09 — 7 hours doing Y and Z

Option #3 is the best choice because now, you’ve accounted for 7 billable hours for the next day, and used NO vacation time for it.  You ask, “How can this be justified?”  Well, the two hours after midnight are easy because it’s technically another day.  No argument there.  What about the other five hours?  This depends on what you consider a work day.  Does the work day end for billing purposes when you go home and go to sleep (Option #1), at the stroke of midnight (Option #2), or at the end of COB for the firm staff and for the courts (Option #3)?  As far as I know, there are no official rules governing when one billable day ends and when the next begins.  If you calculate your billable time based on COB, the time you worked after-hours can “count” for the following day.

Congratulations!  Even without the 0.1 hour policy, you have now found ways to save vacation time.  Next week, we’ll continue this topic with discussion about apportioning billable hours, the client “10 hour max rule,” rounding, and other billable madness.  For now, start planning your next “work vacation” and save up those vacation hours!

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In Monday’s post, I recommended that you check your firm’s policy on vacation days.  In particular, I advised that you determine if your firm allows you to count a 0.1 hour day as a work day.  Some firms do; some don’t.  Today, we explore the rationale behind a 0.1 hour work day policy.

After reading Monday’s post, some of you may feel uncomfortable with the notion that you can “save” a vacation day by simply billing 0.1 hours.  Let me allay your concerns.  As a preliminary matter, if your firm’s policy allows it, you are perfectly entitled to do so.  If your firm doesn’t allow it, rest assured that you’ll receive a call from someone in billing informing you that you need to account for another 6.9 or 7.9 hours for that day (depending on the 7 or 8 hour work day).

Let’s do a thought experiment: think about all the holidays where you were in the office working.  Or weekends.  Isn’t that supposed to be your free time?  Time to spend with friends / family / spouse / boyfriend / girlfriend / dog?  Even a cat, if that’s how you choose to spend your time?  (sorry, I’m allergic to cats)  Think about the times that you cancelled an event on a Friday night or a weekend because of work.  Think about how you don’t get overtime for working on days that you aren’t supposed to work.  (Yes, you get a bonus based on overall billable hours, but those hours can be billed at any time, and aren’t dependant on when they are billed.)

My point is this: you don’t get any extra credit for working on days that you aren’t supposed to be working, so taking a day off here and there when you actually can get away from the office shouldn’t count against you either.

Let’s make this easy with an example.  MLK weekend in January 2010 is not too far away.  Some of you may have already made plans to go skiing during that long weekend.  But it turns out that you have a major court filing the day after MLK, and it’s a massive MSJ.  No matter how much you plan in advance, you’ve been in the business long enough to know that there is no way you can go on the ski trip.  You’ll be working throughout the weekend, likely pulling successive all-nighters.  The client is going to want to make last-minute changes on Sunday or Monday.  You won’t sleep at all Monday night or Tuesday morning implementing those final edits.  In short, you won’t have an MLK weekend.

But guess what?  After the MSJ is filed on Tuesday afternoon, you have some free time.  Here’s the problem, though: if you go to work on Wednesday, you’ll sit in the office all day with little to nothing to do.  You may end up surfing the internet for a full day and billing 0.1 hours anyway, because the only billable work that you could do was to check the ECF system to confirm that your MSJ was filed properly.  Maybe you clean your office.  You end up billing 7.9 hours to office admin.  What a waste of a perfectly good day.

But if you take the day as a vacation day, you’ve just used up precious vacation time.  And it doesn’t really feel like a vacation to you, but just a delayed opportunity to catch up on sleep after burning the midnight oil all through a holiday weekend.  Why can’t you take your MLK weekend now?  If your MSJ was due the Friday before MLK, you would have three free days that wouldn’t be counted toward your vacation time.  Why is it that, just because your MSJ filing happened to fall on a Tuesday instead of a Friday, you now have to use vacation days?

You shouldn’t have to.  That’s why I advocate the 0.1 hour work day policy.  It balances out the lost weekends and holidays that associates sacrifice in order to serve the partners and their clients.  Consider the 0.1 hour work day as a “make-up” day for weekend work.

Note that I am not suggesting that the 0.1 hour work day be abused.  If you are planning to take a two-week vacation to Europe to celebrate an anniversary, you’ve booked your tickets three months in advance and given ample notice to all the partners, and the firm has already transferred your workload to other associates during your time away, do not try to bill 0.1 hours each day to avoid using your vacation.  You have no reason to bill any time if someone else is responsible for your work while you are gone (unless something comes up in the case that is related to knowledge that only you possess).  It’s really a vacation, so treat it as one.  Enjoy yourself, don’t think about work, and bill the two weeks as a vacation.

Agree?  Disagree?  How do you bill your vacation days?  Want to tell me that you like cats better than dogs?  I’d love to hear from you.

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Welcome back!  I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.  This week, we continue the theme that we started last week: vacation vacation vacation.  If you read my post from 11-24-09, I talked about how to invest your vacation days so that when you depart your firm, you’ll have created a very nice golden parachute for yourself.  If you haven’t read that post, read it first and then come back to this one.  If you have, you’ll know that part of the investment process requires that you actually “save” up your vacation.  But how does one not use vacation time and still relax on the beach in Maui with a cocktail of one’s choice?

Let’s use this past week as an example.  Let’s say that your family (all from Boston and New York) decided to get away to somewhere warm and did in fact spend its Thanksgiving holiday in Hawaii.  About two months earlier, when you were on the phone with your parents planning out the trip, they mentioned that the ten-hour flight each way was long, so if the whole family was headed to Hawaii, it would only be worthwhile if everyone could extend the Thanksgiving holiday by a few days.  Despite protests from you that your firm needed you and you had tons of work to do, your family overrules you and the vacation is set: you depart from JFK on Tuesday, November 24 and return on Monday, November 30 late at night.

Tomorrow, when you go into work after a week of R&R in the sun, you sit down to do your time.  If you are like most associates, this is what your time sheet looks like:

11/24/09 (Tues):  8.0 hours –> vacation

11/25/09 (Wed):  8.0 hours –> vacation

11/26/09 (Th):  8.0 hours –> holiday

11/27/09 (Fri): 8.0 hours –> holiday

11/30/09 (Mon): 8.0 hours –> vacation

If you did your time this way, you’ve just used 24 hours of vacation, the equivalent of three days’ salary!  But you’re probably still dreaming of luaus, lush rainforests, and roasted pig and don’t really care about the fact you just used several vacation days.  I mean, after all, aren’t vacation days supposed to be used?

Yes, but only as a last resort!  Why burn vacation hours if you don’t have to?  Save up for the golden parachute!

Let’s see how we can shave off some of that time.  First, the easy one: does your firm calculate vacation hours based on a seven or eight hour day?  If it’s a seven hour day, you should only be billing seven hours (max) per day to vacation.  Don’t assume that a work-day is based on eight hours!  There, you just shaved off three precious vacation hours already:

11/24/09 (Tues):  7.0 hours –> vacation

11/25/09 (Wed):  7.0 hours –> vacation

11/26/09 (Th):  7.0 hours –> holiday

11/27/09 (Fri): 7.0 hours –> holiday

11/30/09 (Mon): 7.0 hours –> vacation

What else can we do?  Let’s look more closely at this past Wednesday, November 25.  Usually, firms let staff leave early on Thanksgiving eve.  If the office is closed at noon on November 25, that means the firm has declared it a “half” workday.  In other words, you are only obligated to put in 3.5 to 4 billable hours instead of the normal 7 or 8.  So in our example above, you’ve just shaved off another 3.5 hours:

11/24/09 (Tues):  7.0 hours –> vacation

11/25/09 (Wed):  3.5 hours –> vacation

3.5 hours –> holiday

11/26/09 (Th):  7.0 hours –> holiday

11/27/09 (Fri): 7.0 hours –> holiday

11/30/09 (Mon): 7.0 hours –> vacation

From our original example of expending 24 hours of vacation, we’ve shaved off a whopping 6.5 hours!  You’re probably thinking to yourself, “That’s it.  There’s nothing else that can possibly be done.”  In fact, there is more, potentially a lot more.  It may be possible, in fact, to shave off the remaining 17.5 hours of vacation, so that even though you are in Hawaii for a full week, you won’t use any of your vacation time.  Not a single minute.  What’s the catch?

There is a catch, but it’s a teeny-weeny one.  You have to work one-tenth of an hour each day for three days while you are in Hawaii.  How hard is that?  If you read one e-mail or letter from opposing counsel or a client on each of those three days, you can now legitimately bill 0.1 hours to your case.  You can do that in your sleep.  Almost literally.  If that seems wrong, you haven’t been working at a law firm long enough.  I’ll talk about the art of rounding in a future post, but for now, think of it this way: partners love it when you bill.  They want you to bill.  If you are spending any time thinking about the case, reading a letter–however trivial it may seem to you, it’s still work.  And all work should be billed.  Because that work, your time translates directly into dollars into the partners’ pockets.

So let’s look at your time sheet for the past week again:

11/24/09 (Tues):  0.1 hours –> Review e-mail from client re: X

11/25/09 (Wed):  0.1 hours –> E-mail correspondence with opposing counsel re: Y

3.5 hours –> holiday

11/26/09 (Th):  7.0 hours –> holiday

11/27/09 (Fri): 7.0 hours –> holiday

11/30/09 (Mon): 0.1 hours –> Review letter from opposing counsel re: Z

But, you say, how can this be right?  If I can bill 0.1 hours on any vacation day and never call it a vacation, I’d never have to use any vacation days?  Exactly.  Believe it or not, there are law firms out there that only count a day as a vacation day if you can’t account for even 0.1 hours of billable work.  For these firms, using the 0.1 hour method allows you to accumulate vacation hours like no one’s business, and you should do so without hesitation.  I’ll continue the discussion this week to discuss two additional topics: (1) Why is the 0.1 method actually the fairest policy for a firm to calculate associate vacation?  (2) If your firm doesn’t permit the 0.1 method, what are other ways to save up on vacation time?

The moral of the story is, once again: get informed!  Find out the details of your firm’s policy toward vacation time.  Is it based on 7 or 8 hour days?  Does the firm have a 0.1 method policy?  Talk to senior associates who have hopefully already thought about these issues.

To those associates out there who just took a week-long vacation this past week and didn’t use any vacation time, congratulations!

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Investing in your vacation time

Financial investments are incredibly important to lawyers.  As an associate at Biglaw, you’re making more money than you’ve ever made at a previous job, and–for those transitioning straight from the poor student lifestyle–it must feel like highway robbery at first.  But what do you do with all that money?  You can put it into a checking or saving’s account, earning a paltry interest that likely doesn’t even cover the costs of inflation.  Or you can invest it.  Your firm makes it easy for you to take that first step.  They automatically enroll you into a 401k plan, and most firms contribute to it.  And unless you need all the money immediately, most associates max out their annual 401k contributions.  Once you start investing in your 401k plan, you may take the next step to also invest some of your liquid savings in the stock market.

Over time, the average stock market return is roughly 10%.  The actual performance varies every year, and as everyone knows from 2008, involves considerable risk.  But what if I told you that there was a guaranteed way to earn triple that return (30%+) with no risk?

Since the holidays are coming up, I decided that the theme for this week would be vacation time.  Today, we discuss how investing in your vacation time can pay big dividends in the future.

Each year, as an associate at a law firm, you accrue vacation time.  Depending on your firm’s policy, vacation time can vary from two to four weeks a year.  A vacation week is really not a “week”; it’s more like five days, because weekends don’t count.  But if you really want to be precise, it’s not even really five “days”; it’s actually a specific number of hours.  Usually, that number is 7 or 8 hours per day.

Let’s assume that your firm has a three-week vacation policy per year.  You accrue a fraction of this time every day you go to work, until it adds up to the three weeks at the end of the calendar year.  Assuming you took no vacation, we convert those “three weeks” into the actual vacation time that you have accumulated; at 8 hours a day, you would have received credit for 120 hours of vacation time.

Here’s the important part: those 120 vacation hours are directly correlated to your current pay scale.  Because your pay scale generally increases significantly over several years, the 120 vacation hours will be worth a lot more in the future than now!

Let me give you a real life example.  A number of years ago, before starting salaries for first years jumped to $160,000, entry-level associates at top firms were paid $125,000.  Sarah works at firm X for four years.  By the time she leaves, her salary has risen to $170,000 due to the tiered compensation plan and also due to salary wars among firms.  Her first-year vacation time is worth 36% more now than four years ago.  If she was wise to invest this vacation time starting from her first day of work, she’ll leave her firm with a homemade golden parachute worth enough to buy a nice sports car.

You may be wondering at this point, “Well, that’s nice, but doesn’t that mean that I essentially can’t take vacation in order for this to work?”  Nope!  In my next post, I’ll discuss how to legitimately take a vacation while still calling it a work day.

In the interim, if you are a current associate, contact your benefits administrator to determine how your vacation time accrues, whether there’s a cap, and how to calculate your vacation time as an hourly wage.  Every law firm has its own vacation policy, and it behooves you to understand exactly what it means for you.

Disclaimer:  The information provided in today’s post is intended to be for educational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal or financial advice.  Law firms may have a vacation policy with a “cap” for maximum accrued vacation days where any unused vacation days over the limit are lost.  The strategies discussed herein are based on California Labor Code Section 227.3 and are therefore applicable only to California employees.  For more details, go to http://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/FAQ_vacation.htm.  If you are not employed in California, please refer to your state’s labor laws to determine if there are similar provisions.

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